A city committee's efforts to monitor bars may have some bartenders and owners afraid to call police, according to two Racine tavern owners.
JJ McAuliffe and Joey LeGath appeared before the Public Safety and Licensing Committee Monday night to caution aldermen against penalizing bars for calling the police on problem customers.
In recent years the committee has worked with the Racine Police Department to review incidents at bars and to call in owners to explain those incidents. LeGath and McAuliffe agreed violent or illegal behavior should be investigated by the committee.
But they were concerned the committee was asking bar owners to attend meetings based on calls the owner or their employees made to police to try and prevent fights or corral out-of-control drinking. Some bar owners are beginning to question whether they should call police, out of fear they may get called before the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, which regulates liquor licenses in Racine.
On Monday night, four bars were called in for review. The owners of Coasters, Kenny's, the Neighborhood Bar and The Club were all called in, though the committee found few problems with the bars' operations. Most of the police incidents cited in the review had nothing to do with the bar, or were some sort of fluke violation. (In one example, a 20-year-old was caught in the bar after she was turned away at the door by a bouncer. The girl snuck in the back after her boyfriend opened a locked door for her, according to the owner.)
McAuliffe and LeGath, who are both active members of the Racine Tavern League, read a letter to the committee that questioned if a committee would call Kmart or Walmart in for review for regularly calling the police to arrest shoplifters. They said many police calls from taverns are similar.
LeGath said bars should be thanked for working with police, not called in to defend their actions.
Alderman Aron Wisneski, who chairs the committee, said bar owners should not consider being called in a punishment. "Just because you're here, doesn't mean you're in trouble," he said.
But Wisneski also accepted LeGath and McAuliffe's recommendation and said the city could use clearer language to explain that the committee is more interested in the type of police calls, not the number of police calls, involving a tavern.
LeGath said reassuring bar owners that they won't be punished for calling police would ease people's fears when dealing with troublesome customers.
"If that only helps one person avoid something tragic, it will have been worth it," LeGath said.