The Huntington Beach Police Department is considering posting the names of drunk-driving offenders on its website as part of a stepped-up strategy to address DUIs downtown and citywide.
Police submitted a report this month to the City Council identifying drinking and driving as a "significant problem" in Surf City and detailed proposed strategies for preventing and reducing the crime.
Tactics already include notifying establishments where those arrested for DUI had their last drink, DUI checkpoints and participating in Every 15 Minutes programs in schools. And police are asking the city to fund a third motorcycle officer for its DUI enforcement team.
Posting offenders' names online would take enforcement into the digital age. Department officials did not know how many other Orange County cities, if any, posted suspected offenders' names online.
"DUIs are a public-safety issue," said police Lt. Russell Reinhart. "Public awareness of the problem, and scope of the problem, is one way of addressing any public-safety concern."
The Police Department considered publishing the names of those arrested for DUI after the Huntington Beach Independent stopped publishing a weekly DUI list in December, according to the city report. The Independent decided to ax the standing feature after a change in editorial policy.
The department is considering posting the names, which are public record, online, not to embarrass people, but to send a message that Huntington is enforcing DUIs, he said.
"It's not a wall of shame we're looking to put up," Reinhart said.
For the last three years, on average, the department has made 1,700 DUI arrests a year.
Huntington's DUI rate was the third-highest for cities with similar populations in 2008, according to the report.
"We have a murder once every couple of years in Huntington Beach, but we have a dozen or so people killed in alcohol-related crashes every year," Reinhart said.
However, Huntington still has the fourth-highest number of alcohol-related traffic collisions for its population, which is estimated at more than 201,000, according to the report.
Reinhart said officers are trying to focus on being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to drinking and driving.
"We're trying to actually stop the problem before it happens," he said. "We see it as a problem, the council sees it as a problem, the residents see it as a problem. We're doing what we can to stop the problem rather than just react to the problem."
The Police Department in March began tracking where those arrested on suspicion of drunken driving had their last drink. Police compiled the data and then began notifying the managers of those businesses on a monthly basis to inform them that they may have been over-serving customers.
The hope, Reinhart said, is that the establishments take action by serving fewer drinks and directing intoxicated patrons to taxis.
"There's an expectation that they don't serve people to the point of intoxication," he said.
In a period from March 1 to June 30, the highest number of DUI arrestees claimed to have had their last drink at two Main Street restaurants. Fourteen arrestees claimed to have their last drinks at Baja Sharkeez, while eight said they were at Hurricanes Bar & Grill.
Ron Newman, a partner in Sharkeez, said his restaurant doesn't serve those who are obviously intoxicated, will pay cab fare for those who cannot drive and serves free soft drinks to designated drivers.
But at the end of the night, Sharkeez can't control what people do when they leave, he added.
"We can only control what goes on in our store," Newman said. "We don't know what's going on after."
Newman said he visited the Huntington Beach location after receiving notification from the Police Department to review guidelines with staff and make sure all rules were being followed.
Hurricanes General Manager Kerry Lovett said the restaurant also doesn't serve those who are obviously intoxicated, offers designated drivers free sodas, directs patrons to taxis outside and puts all servers through an alcohol-training program.
Lovett said he posts the notifications for his staff to remind them that selling an extra $5 drink isn't as important as making sure the customers are safe and that they come back; they won't if they get a DUI after leaving.
"Whatever we can do to support the P.D. and stop this happening, we're more than willing," he said.
The department has seen a relationship between the increase of alcohol licenses and the increase in DUI arrests, Reinhart said.
The arrest tracking so far "supports our belief that there is a link between the two," he said.
It's the city that has a DUI problem, but the problem is concentrated downtown, Reinhart said.
The area, which is popular with tourists who crowd the street for events like this weekend's U.S. Open of Surfing, as well as locals, has become a problem over the last decade for residents and police, due to the number of visitors flooding the city on weekends and during the summer to drink.
The 2.4-square-mile downtown makes up about 1.5% of the city, but has 11% of calls to police.
Officers in 2009 arrested 900 people — 600 of them for alcohol- and drug-related crimes — downtown, Police Chief Ken Small said at a meeting on the downtown parking problems in March.
About 19% of the city's liquor licenses are issued to downtown businesses, according to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) records.
The area has seen a "considerable increase" in alcohol licenses over the past decade, Reinhart said.
Downtown is known for its bar scene, but there is actually only one true bar, Perqs — which hasn't given officials too much trouble, Reinhart said. The other 42 establishments with licenses are classified as restaurants because they serve food, he said.
Reinhart said many of the establishments are responsible and haven't been a problem, but there has been a pattern of fights, disturbances and drunken driving from a few, he said.
Some residents fear the number of venues able to sell alcohol has grown to such an extent that police no longer have the resources or manpower to handle the situation, said David Rice, a downtown resident and president of Huntington Beach Neighbors, a grassroots organization dedicated to reducing density and limiting the expansion of bars.
"I'm not blaming the police," he said. "I think they have too much to do. Too many bars, I think, is the issue."
Rice said he isn't calling for a decrease in alcohol establishments, just more responsible patrons, but some residents want the city to crack down on the number of liquor licenses.
Downtown resident Kirk Mason said there has been too much growth when it comes to liquor licenses. The father of two said he is worried about his children driving around the area. Mason said he warns his 17-year-old son to avoid driving in the downtown area after 10 p.m. and has him call before he drives home to estimate an arrival time.
"I'm in favor of stopping additional liquor licenses in the city," he said of the about 220 licenses citywide, adding that the 43 downtown are "pretty crazy."
Mayor Cathy Green said the City Council doesn't really have a say over liquor licenses, because they are under the purview of the ABC.
"We can do certain things, but we really don't oversee the ABC licenses," she said.
By the numbers
By the numbers
•Huntington Beach has about 220 establishments with active liquor licenses.
• More than 200 of those licenses are for restaurants.
• 53 were approved before 2000.
• 26 are on Main Street.
• Only one establishment, the Huntington Beach Beer Co. at 201 Main St., is licensed as a general brew-pub.
• The Huntington Harbour Yacht Club and the Elks Lodge 1959 have club liquor licenses.
Source: All information from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control records.