October 12, 2009

Bar owners: Committee may be discouraging calls to police

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.


  1. My hat is off to Joey and JJ, I do not go to Bars but know both of these men personally. they have a long track record for getting rid of problem patrons. Like Joey and JJ always say I would rather kick out 10 bad patrons to keep the 4 responsible one coming back.

  2. I have been told time and again that calls that Bar owners/staff make for help do not count ageist them.
    Thank you JJ and Joey for making sure.
    I would hope that The City would want your help in keeping your bars safe.

  3. I would think that they would specify what type of problem would bring on a meeting. If the neighbors are constantly calling police, or people are shot in or out of the bar then we should see some sort of action.

  4. If you call the police enough to report crimes, you, too, will be labeled a problem citizen and discouraged from contacting them. That has been policy for at least a decade. It is much easier to stifle the complaints than solve the problems. Many of us have learned to deal with the crime ourselves. To us, the police are just another part of the problem.

    Of course, it might help if the permanently dependent portion of the population stopped calling the police because their kid talked back to them or they don't like the service at McDonalds, but now that the schools and police have the job of raising their children for them, I doubt that will happen.

    Party on!

  5. So the motto is 'we are here to help, just not too much?'

  6. This is the same dilemma that landlords face: call the police often enough to handle unruly and dangerous tenants and the landlords become the target of threats from the police department. Bar owners and landlords are not babysitters and are not responsible for the actions of others. In fact, being persecuted by the police and city council forces the bar owners and landlords into handling potentially dangerous situations on their own, for fear of repercussions from the city.

    Landlords can evict a tenant, but that takes time and there is often retaliatory actions taken by the tenant, often resulting in numerous police calls to the property. Landlords should not be held accountable for this. Bars, on the other hand, can immediately ban someone from coming back into the club. But if that person decides to make trouble and the police are called, in most cases they don't get arrested and then the bar owner is called on the carpet. If the police would arrest these animals (both troublemakers for landlords and bar owners) and the courts put the blame where it belongs (on the troublemakers), then maybe they would get the message. But as long as the victims of these animals actions are the ones being blamed for it, nothing is going to change and bar owners and landlords will continue to have to handle potentially violent situations on their own.

    God save us from this duffus, do-nothing mayor and absolute idiots that sit on the city council.

  7. Why does Wisneski remind me of Laurel (from Laurel and Hardy)? And when he's with Alderman Helding, well....there's no mistaking the resemblence.

  8. I don't get the Oliver Hardy reference. I don't have a mustache.

  9. Alderman Aron Wisneski10/13/2009 3:12 PM

    LOL! I like that one -- Although I think I have less hair than Stan Laurel...

    On the topic though, as we discussed last night, the committee tries to weigh the overall police call record when asking in a license holder. A particularly violent incident may cause us to ask someone in, but it is not always meant to be punitive. Keep in mind that our committee is called "Public Safety and Licensing" -- and like it or not, violence sometimes occurs where alcohol is served. Usually the police record shows that the calls are unrelated to the establishment. But when a sudden rash of strange things start occurring at a location, or if many of the neighboring residents/business owners start contacting us about problems nearby, we would be remiss if we didn't ask about what is going on.

    As someone stated above, we do want to make sure our neighborhoods and business districts are safe. Sometimes the problems at one location are actually coming from somewhere else, but we cannot assist with the issues if we do not have a conversation about what is going on. It is the police department’s job to deal with criminal activity; it is our committee’s job to grant and monitor liquor licenses. Experience has shown us that sometimes (rarely, but on occasion) a license holder's actions are contributing to the problems -- serving drinks past closing, allowing more people in than code allows, not checking I.D.s, playing music too loud with the doors wide open, serving too many drinks to already inebriated customers, etc.

    Under state law calling the police alone is not grounds for revocation or suspension. The purposes for the call might be. Sheer quantity of calls could be an indicator of larger issues, but the nature of each call is taken into account before anyone is “called in”. Sometimes where there is smoke, there is fire. Most of the time there is not. I understand that some license holders feel put-upon for being asked to talk with the committee about these problems. However, I would rather have that uncomfortable conversation than have to later ask about a worse situation just because we didn’t want to inconvenience someone.

  10. Fell off my chair laughing10/13/2009 3:25 PM

    I don't care who you are we have to give Mr. Helding credit for his response! Good one Greg!

  11. Laurel and Hardy, teeheeheeheee....

  12. Keith W Deschler10/13/2009 8:47 PM

    I for one am a firm believer on smaller government,however,this is a case where it is better to nip a problem in the bud before it gets to be a bigger one.I would hope in the end the police,public safety committee,and the bar owners can find some common ground and work together.Isn't that after all what a community is all about? I don't know about anybody else but I sure am getting burned out with alot of the negativity within our city. I admit I have dished out my fair share,but,it takes a mature adult to recognize when the actions one takes begins to blur the original goal.This is a call to all responsible citizens to stop and think about what it is we are all trying acomplish,and ask ones self,is the current effort ultimately going to obtain the original goal?

  13. Forget about "Deschler for Alderman" he should run for "Mayor"!

  14. I'm sorry, I had to chuckle about the Laurel and Helding comment. But I also would like to thank both for being good sports about it, and more so because you both are reading these blogs. There are those in public service who seem to think bloggers are nothing but hate mongers and uneducated, uninformed hicks. I see these blogs as a great platform for the average citizen who cannot attend the meetings and speak during public comment, to make his comment on issues we face as a community. I do agree some mindless venting does occur, but to read between the lines is to recognize an unhappy, frustrated citizen.

  15. I am one who is no fan of Mr. Wisneski, but I do have to say that his well tempered response here is logical, well stated and admirable. There is nothing wrong with questioning a bar owner about occurrences at his place of business, or any business for that fact.

    Neither am I a fan of Greg Helding, but it's good to see you both have a sense of humor.

    I also agree with Anon 7:38, but Keith needs to realize that there is a space after every comma or period.