Bar crowd control is a job for police
People go to bars to drink. And they leave bars after having done so — often having done so to excess.
They can be loud, confused, goofy or argumentative. They can get into serious trouble and endanger others.
So it makes sense that the city is considering an ordinance intended to keep Charleston’s late-night drinking spots — the Market and upper King Street — safe.
And it makes sense to expect bar owners to do their part to reduce noise, and to have the staff needed to keep order.
But the ordinance also would require bar owners to police the sidewalks in front of their establishments, and that is an invitation for trouble.
Dealing with drunks isn’t always easy for trained police, who are armed and have the legal authority to make people leave, with force if necessary. Charging a bouncer with the peace-keeping responsibility is not just misplacing authority, it’s foolhardy.
Jim Curley, owner of AC’s Bar and Grill on the part of King Street where the bar scene is most lively, says drunks and rowdy people have ignored his staff when they have tried to move people away from the bar. The drunks don’t see a police uniform, so they don’t recognize their authority to arrest or restrain them.
Drunks might get physical with a bouncer, but they would be less likely to do so with a police officer.
City Council member Aubry Alexander raised a good question: Is it a good idea for untrained individuals to perform crowd control? The city’s legal department has been asked to study the issue.
It would be wise for the lawyers also to consider the more basic principle of giving an ordinary person, trained or not, a job that is the job of police.
Some parts of the proposed ordinance are reasonable. Bars need to close their doors and windows at 11 p.m. if music is played. They need to hire an adequate number of security personnel to keep miscreants in check. They should keep the sidewalks in front of their businesses clean.
If the bar scene gets out of control, not only will residents and visitors be in danger of harm, the city’s reputation as a great place for tourists will be diminished. And tourism is essential to Charleston’s economy.
The sidewalks are far more likely to be safe and the neighborhoods less rowdy with ample police protection than with a beefy bouncer, no matter how capable he is.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen plans to hire eight additional officers and assign them to the bar spots, using the city’s accommodations tax.
That’s a good use for the revenue derived from the tourist-related tax. Maybe more can be used to hire additional officers, as needed.