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Dickinson police: Shortage of bars leads to high fight rate

Too many people in too few bars are causing too many fights for the Dickinson Police Department to deal with.

When City Attorney Matt Kolling brought proposed revisions to the city's liquor license ordinance to Monday's City Commission meeting at City Hall, the increase in fights was one major contributing factor.

"Part of the problem is that there are a limited number of facilities of bars for people to frequent, so we're getting larger crowds in the bars than we have, which is causing some of the disorderly conduct cases that we're seeing," DPD Capt. Joe Cianni said.

DPD has received more than 70 calls for service related to disorderly conduct or assault at bars since Jan. 1.

"In this particular case, I believe that more is better just because you have more choices for not only the citizens of Dickinson but those traveling through to be able to go into different locations, and spread the people out so they're not confined into a certain amount of establishments," Cianni said.

The number of fight calls DPD receives to a bar and its premises, under the proposed changes, will have an effect on its ability to renew its liquor license, Kolling said.

"Nobody wants a fight in any of the establishments but unfortunately it happens once in a while and sometimes it's no fault of the employees or the staff," Eagles Club Manager Marty Boyle said Tuesday, adding that the Eagles keeps a low-key, mellow atmosphere and doesn't have many, if any, fights.

One concern is that bar staff moves fights out of the bar and into the parking lots and streets and DPD effectively becomes security for the establishment, Commission President Dennis Johnson said.

DPD Chief Dustin Dassinger suggested language in the ordinance that would make a liquor license holder responsible for their whole premises, Kolling said.

"The bar bouncers, per say, aren't dealing with any of the crowd," Cianni said.

Dickinson code allows an on-sale/off-sale license holder one year from obtaining a license to make its first sale; otherwise it reverts back to the city. The proposed changes would allow an extension of up to a year, if requested in writing and if the city administrator sees fit.

At previous commission meetings, it was stated that something similar to this has been happening with the on-sale/off-sale license held by Walmart.

"We were concerned about some language in our current ordinance about the time restrictions on renewal," Kolling said.

Other proposed changes did not go over so well.

A person must be a resident of Stark County for at least three months to own or manage a bar, but Kolling suggested making it two years.

"Do we think that's practical?" Johnson asked. "Has the three-month requirement been an issue for us?

The 24-month period was chosen after a survey of similar-sized cities found they have a two-year requirement, Kolling said. Part of the reason for that is to be able to do a proper background check.

"That's highly unlikely right now," Commissioner Shirley Dukart said of finding a liquor store or bar manager who has lived here for two years.

Commissioners agreed there hadn't been any problems with the three-month residency requirement and saw no need to make it eight times as long.

Another proposed change would restrict hotels with bars from obtaining a motel or hotel liquor license if they served the general public more than their guests.

"I don't know how you would ever determine that as fact in the first place," Johnson said of whom is patronizing a hotel bar. "And if you did, how you would enforce that? I think, to me, if they have 75 rooms or more and they want to have a lounge, I think that's -- to me -- that's the requirement."

The city allows lodgers to obtain a motel or hotel liquor license if it has 75 or more rooms.

"A 75-room motel, in my view, for a community of our size, is not a small hotel," Johnson said. "I think the 75 rooms is a high enough hurdle so that you don't go build a place that's got five rooms and then build a big lounge and say, 'Give us a hotel liquor license.' You have to make a substantial investment in a hotel property to get this kind of liquor license."

The commission was not scheduled to vote on the suggestions Monday.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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