Panel to study po­lice re­ports of club crime

Se­na­tor says al­co­hol board should be told of prob­lems

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - ERIC BES­SON

A leg­isla­tive panel will look into re­quir­ing Arkansas po­lice de­part­ments to re­port nearly ev­ery en­counter with restau­rants, bars and night­clubs to state al­co­hol reg­u­la­tors in the af­ter­math of the July 1 shoot­ing at a Lit­tle Rock club that left 28 peo­ple wounded.

State Sen. Ed­die Joe Wil­liams, R-Cabot, said he is push­ing for manda­tory no­ti­fi­ca­tion to re­place the cur­rent method, in which lo­cal of­fi­cers vol­un­tar­ily for­ward re­ports concerning busi­nesses with liquor li­censes to Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol.

Mem­bers of the Se­nate and House com­mit­tees on State Agen­cies and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs on Thurs­day morn­ing gave ap­proval to look into whether a change is war­ranted.

Wil­liams cited a lack of reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween lo­cal po­lice and state reg­u­la­tors when pre­sent­ing the pro­posal. He specif­i­cally men­tioned Power Ul­tra Lounge — where state and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties re­sponded to at least 37 civil and crim­i­nal prob­lems be­fore the shoot­ing — but called it a statewide issue.

“I’ve talked to [bev­er­age con­trol], and un­less they read about it in the paper or some­one hap­pens to give them a call, they would never know the po­lice were called to an estab­lish­ment,” Wil­liams said. “In my opin­ion, ev­ery time the po­lice is called to a pri­vate club, we should have a rea­son­able time that that’s re­ported to [Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol].”

Wil­liams clar­i­fied that his sug­ges­tion would ex­tend to all es­tab­lish­ments with a liquor li­cense, such as restau­rants that serve mixed drinks, rather than only busi­nesses li­censed as pri­vate clubs, and he ac­knowl­edged that the re­spon­si­bil­ity would fall pri­mar­ily to lo­cal po­lice.

A com­mit­tee that will in­clude a mem­ber of bev­er­age con­trol and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the state’s po­lice chief as­so­ci­a­tion will dis­cuss the issue, Wil­liams said, and its charge will also be to de­ter­mine whether a change re­quires new law or can be done sooner through a rule-mak­ing process. A pro­posal will be sub­mit­ted to the Se­nate com­mit­tee, he said.

The Leg­is­la­ture’s next reg­u­lar ses­sion is in early 2019.

Bev­er­age con­trol can fine li­censed busi­nesses or sus­pend or strip their per­mits for dozens of spe­cific vi­o­la­tions. Those ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude when op­er­a­tors pos­sess nar­cotics, drink on the

job or run afoul of other rules, but also when pa­trons bring in weapons, com­mit vi­o­lent acts or oth­er­wise dis­turb neigh­bors.

Lit­tle Rock po­lice re­sponded to Power Ul­tra Lounge, also known as Lulav, at least 24 times dat­ing back to 2013 for re­ports rang­ing from or­di­nance vi­o­la­tions to theft to gun­fire out­side, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment records.

The Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol file on Power Ul­tra Lounge and Lulav shows just two po­lice depart­ment in­ci­dents were re­ported to the state, which li­censed the busi­ness as a restau­rant that serves mixed drinks.

Both cases were from the depart­ment’s vice di­vi­sion, which in­ves­ti­gates and for­wards po­ten­tial al­co­hol-re­lated vi­o­la­tions. Those cases in­volved al­le­ga­tions that the busi­ness al­lowed peo­ple to leave the busi­ness with al­co­hol and vi­o­lated clos­ing hours in De­cem­ber 2011, and served beer to a mi­nor in Novem­ber 2012.

Boyce Ham­let, di­rec­tor of bev­er­age con­trol’s en­force­ment di­vi­sion, said he doesn’t see a wide­spread com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap be­tween the agency and lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments but that the sug­gested changes “might plug some holes.” Ham­let said he was aware of the study and had spo­ken about it with Wil­liams.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate any help we can get from the state House or state Se­nate,” Ham­let said.

Mary Robin Cas­teel, di­rec­tor of the agency’s ad­min­is­tra­tive di­vi­sion, said she didn’t want to com­ment on the study un­til she had more time to con­sider it.

“We typ­i­cally have a pretty close re­la­tion­ship with po­lice de­part­ments,” Cas­teel said. “We don’t al­ways re­ceive their re­ports. When they think it’s war­ranted, we do.”

Lit­tle Rock Po­lice Chief Ken­ton Buckner said he will wait for specifics be­fore talk­ing about the idea.

“I would need to see ex­actly what’s be­ing asked of us and what the in­tent and pur­pose was be­fore I re­spond to it,” Buckner said.

Within the past week the Fort Smith Po­lice Depart­ment be­gan mak­ing ex­tra copies of

re­ports concerning a place with a liquor li­cense and plac­ing them in a box that state en­force­ment agents have ac­cess to, spokesman Sgt. Daniel Grubbs said.

“We have a very close re­la­tion­ship with the [bev­er­age con­trol] agents in our area,” Grubbs said. “Out of pro­fes­sional cour­tesy, they’ve asked us if we do re­spond and note any vi­o­la­tions, to let them know. If we re­mem­ber, we do.”

Grubbs said com­plaints for­warded to the state have typ­i­cally in­volved vi­o­lence or weapons.

Wil­liams, the se­na­tor, said lo­cal po­lice should re­port all in­ci­dents and that he wants to see harsher penal­ties, re­fer­ring to an up­com­ing law that will al­low peo­ple to carry con­cealed hand­guns into places that serve drinks if they hold a state permit.

“I kind of take the po­si­tion that when you get your li­cense, that’s your warn­ing, be­cause we’re serv­ing al­co­hol, and we have kids,” Wil­liams said. “And now we’ve mixed guns into that. It be­comes the wild, wild West in the state of Arkansas. We need to po­ten­tially guard against it and let [bev­er­age con­trol] be the gov­ern­ing body here, not de­ci­sions made by lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments or po­lice chiefs.”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Scott Car­roll and Az­iza Musa of the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette.

“We have a very close re­la­tion­ship with the [bev­er­age con­trol] agents in our area.”

— Sgt. Daniel Grubbs, Fort Smith Po­lice Depart­ment

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