Police pegged liquor-law violations as one of 11 issues that complicated efforts by police to keep the peace at Fiesta, suggesting that by next year officers be given authority to call hearings for businesses that break liquor laws.
The same police after-action report, approved by Mayor Carolyn Kirk last week, had addressed the controversial K9 response on the June 30 night of Fiesta when officers used muzzled police K9s to help disperse a crowd.
When looking at liquor service-related issues, the report seems to suggest that that evening’s “overcrowding” was due to area bars failing to disperse their patrons “responsibly.”
“At closing time, patrons are moved out and onto the sidewalks, and establishment personnel close and lock the doors behind them. This leaves the patrons gathering in their parking lots, in front of the business and on the street,” Chief Leonard Campanello wrote in the report, leaving police to “direct the detail to disperse them away and out of the area with no assistance from the establishment employees.”
As a solution to the overcrowding issues, Campanello suggested the local Liquor Board consider giving police officers the power to call for hearings when businesses fail to adhere to their licensing, by overcrowding for example, essentially making officers “agents of the board.”
“This will deter businesses from overcrowding for profit,” Campanello said.
John Rando, a member of the three-person liquor licensing board, said Monday that the board would be willing to look into anything that would help the police enforce liquor laws.
“I’m not sure of the mechanics of that and how that would work, but we are very much for doing what we can do to help the police. They always have their hands full at Fiesta, and we take it very seriously,” Rando said.
Campanello’s “recommended action” for next year’s Fiesta includes enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy for overcrowding at bars, by reiterating that establishments need to use clicker devices to keep accurate head counts of patrons. He also said police and bar employees need to “combine” efforts to help patrons safely leave the bar areas after closing time. K9s used to assist the effort should continue to wear muzzles unless the crowd becomes “assaultive/aggressive,” he said.
“The use of K9s are a valuable tool and a reasonable use of force when patrons are actively resisting verbal commands by using obscene language, fighting words and ignoring commands,” Campanello said.
Specifically, the after-action report pegs Latitude 43, and to a lesser extent the House of Mitch (now Mitch’s Sport Bar and under new management) and St. Peter’s Club as having “issues” during Fiesta evenings.
Police filed a report with the liquor licensing board against Latitude 43, calling the restaurant “completely overwhelmed in terms of crowd control and public safety” on July 25, when management failed to heed a warning from Campanello. An hour after speaking to people there, a fire alarm sounding in the crowded bar drew Campanello back.
“I returned to find overcrowding and a complete disregard for the safety of their patrons,” Campanello wrote. He ordered Latitude 43 closed for the remainder of that evening.
The issue with overcrowding, according to Campanello, is in large part a safety concern and the difficulty of maneuvering into a crowd or sending in personnel in the case of an emergency.
Campanello wrote that as House of Mitch and St. Peter’s Club closed at the same time, police responded “each night” to issues created by the crowds. But, he said, the problems outside of those bars stemmed not from violations or incorrect actions.
“This seemed to be more of a timing issue than a violation,” Campanello wrote.
Looking toward next year, he suggests enlisting the help of club and bar employees and bouncers to usher their crowds and patrons not just out of their doors, but out of the streets and away from their establishments.
The Police Department’s established goal, as laid out in a pre-Fiesta preparation report, was “to maintain a safe, peaceful, and fun experience,” and officers did report the fewest number of assault-related arrests since 2010.
Despite the problematic crowding in and outside of some bars, Campanello said that having visited each bar in the area during Fiesta, he found most businesses cooperative.
“Businesses, in general, responded very well to Fiesta. Most have been involved in the event for many years and know what to do in terms of serving alcohol, capacity control and quelling disturbances.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.