Panel to study police reports of club crime
Senator says alcohol board should be told of problems
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.”
“We have a very close relationship with the [beverage control] agents in our area.”
— Sgt. Daniel Grubbs, Fort Smith Police Department
Information for this article was contributed by Scott Carroll and Aziza Musa of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.