Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg proposal would force downtown bars to hire off-duty police

ST. PETERSBURG — It has been 19 months since the City Council pushed closing time an hour to 3 a.m. Since then, downtown bars have profited — and the Police Department has paid the price.

But now the council is ready to tackle the problem by requiring bars to help pay to keep downtown's thriving nightlife safe.

City leaders asked their attorneys to draft an ordinance mirrored after Tampa's that requires businesses that serve alcohol to hire off-duty police based on occupancy.

"I just think it's the price of doing business," said City Council member Bill Dudley. "I don't think for one minute that any of the bar owners thought this was going to continue for free. But they probably wished it would."

St. Petersburg police officials complained Thursday that most bars don't hire off-duty officers — and those that do hire them don't do so regularly.

In April, some bars announced a joint venture to hire more officers. But that effort went bust, Mayor Bill Foster said Thursday.

"The cooperation between competing business owners just didn't work," he told the council. "That's why we're coming to you."

The proposed ordinance would give bar owners no choice. Businesses that don't hire extra officers would face escalating fines that would make hiring off-duty officers cheap by comparison.

"We're glad for their success," police Chief Chuck Harmon said. "But we want people who come here to feel safe."

The amount of those proposed fines was not discussed. Officials estimated that it costs about $150 a night to hire an off-duty officer for a minimum of three hours. When an establishment requests off-duty officers, the Police Department determines how many they'll need.

The council also learned the price the rest of the city is paying for downtown: The chief estimated police response times to nonpriority calls increased 20 percent in the late afternoon.

"That frightens me more than anything," said City Council member Herb Polson. "Response times are up 20 percent? That's unconscionable."

That's the result of a change in scheduling to handle the increased downtown workload. A whole shift of officers was moved back an hour so they won't hit overtime when they end their shift downtown.

Emergency, high-priority calls are still answered as fast as possible, Harmon said. But concentrating officers downtown after midnight leaves fewer available during the day to handle calls like car wrecks.

"I'm getting a lot of complaints about people waiting for officers to show up," council member Wengay Newton said. "That is a problem for me. I would welcome someone else coming in to do security and free up our sworn officers."

Bars can hire officers from any law enforcement agency. But other council members favored requiring businesses to hire St. Petersburg's own officers.

Two other ideas also failed to gain ground: Council member Leslie Curran suggested returning to a 2 a.m. closing time, and member Jeff Danner suggested adding police, which is budgeted for 545 officers.

"We just have to realize that this is the cost of business," he said. "Our authorized force from 1988 doesn't fit us anymore. If we want to have a vibrant downtown, it's going to cost us."

But Harmon said it would cost an extra $100,000 to hire, train and equip each new officer. That's unlikely to happen in a cash-strapped city whose police department recently went $2.5 million over budget.

David Marshlack, who owns Bishop Tavern & Lounge and the Central Avenue Oyster Bar, doesn't oppose the direction the council is taking. But he's against a Tampa-style ordinance. He said big bars would end up paying more than smaller ones, which also draw crowds. He favors paying a fee to stay open until 3 a.m.

"They think everyone is making all this extra money with the extra hour," he said. "But there's so many clubs and bars opening now that there isn't any extra money."

St. Petersburg proposal would force downtown bars to hire off-duty police 12/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 11:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena

    Blogs

    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack

    World

    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath

    K12

    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.