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Our View: New closing time could make city streets safer

Published: Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

It’s difficult to pinpoint how much of a difference it would make to close the bars in St. Charles – bars that sometimes attract overly rowdy patrons to the city’s downtown streets – at 1 a.m. instead of 2.

It would be worthwhile to find out.

St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte recently urged the Government Operations Committee to approve bumping up closing time by an hour at bars and restaurants with liquor licenses. The committee unanimously supported the measure, and the City Council is expected to discuss the issue at Tuesday’s meeting. Public input will be welcome.

We are staunchly supportive of businesses having the freedom to operate as they see fit to be successful – within reason. But what has taken place on the streets of downtown St. Charles in the wee hours of many weekends can hardly be considered reasonable.

Our police blotter is routinely filled with a disproportionate number of DUI arrests, drunken brawls and other disorderly conduct stemming from some downtown bar patrons’ inability to enjoy themselves in moderation. An especially raucous first weekend of August that included police responding to reports of four fights in progress cemented DeWitte’s resolve to revisit the bars’ closing times.

St. Charles bars had to shut down by 1 a.m. until the city extended closing time to 2 a.m. two years ago in conjunction with a new liquor tax. The thinking then was that the added hour would help businesses remain competitive with cities that did not have a similar tax.

DeWitte said many of the city’s establishments are careful not to over-serve patrons, but that the “irresponsible actions of a few establishments” were making this new change necessary.

St. Charles liquor license holders had fair warning that the city was running thin on patience. DeWitte said he and Police Chief Jim Lamkin met with Class B and C license holders in May and warned that the city would take action if they failed to more diligently guard against over-serving.

While it’s regrettable that St. Charles drinking destinations would be at somewhat of a competitive disadvantage if the proposal goes through – bars in neighboring Geneva, for example, close at 2 – public safety concerns and the over-extension of police resources to curtail the downtown climate warrant this adjustment.

It’s great that downtown St. Charles has become a popular nightlife district. We hope that people continue to flock to the city to enjoy themselves, but patrons heading home a little earlier – and in a position where they are more likely to make sound decisions – would be in the community’s best interests.

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