Police chief aims to reduce alcohol-related nuisances downtown

The Huntington Beach police chief is looking to curb alcohol-related nuisances downtown and wants council members to approve a few changes he has suggested.

Chief Ken Small submitted a report Tuesday that he said outlines ways the city can remedy the number of drinking-related incidents in the area.

He has suggested readopting an older resolution that would place stricter rules on establishments that sell alcohol, use overtime funding for foot-patrol officers and crack down on patrons drinking off-site. Small will present the recommendations to council members at the June 3 study session.

"The Police Department believes that implementation of these recommendations will mitigate the problems associated with alcohol sales and consumption in downtown Huntington Beach," Small wrote in his report.

Small was given the task of reporting on the topic during a special meeting Jan. 25 as part of a six-month strategic plan for Huntington Beach's three-year goal to overall improve the city, according to a city report.

One thing Small is focusing on is a resolution that the city passed in 2010 that outlined conditions restaurants and bars needed to abide by when serving alcohol.

But in 2011, the City Council passed another resolution that modified the original law, making it applicable only to new requests to either serve alcohol or have entertainment, according to Small's report.

"Because the land use entitlement or conditional use permit stays with the property and not just an individual business, businesses can come and go at the same location and as long as no [conditional use permit] changes are triggered by a 'new request for either the service of alcoholic beverages or entertainment' among other things," Small wrote.

Small said he would like to see the City Council adopt another resolution that is identical to that of 2010. On top of the mirroring ordinance, the police chief recommended that council members tack on additional requirements for establishments.

Six new conditions were suggested, including barring new customers from entering 30 minutes before closing and making last call for drinks no later than 15 minutes before closing.

Businesses are also recommended to have video surveillance to monitor the general area and have footage available to police for investigations, according to the report.

During the slew of budget cuts made by the city, Small said, some positions had to go unfilled. Now, he said, he has fewer officers to place on foot beats.

Small wrote in his report that to fill the gaps, the city should consider using overtime funds to have officers patrol downtown on Fridays and weekends.

To further reduce the number of alcohol-related incidents, Small also suggested that the city consider prohibiting establishments from allowing customers to buy alcohol and consume it elsewhere.

"Many of the complaints the Police Department receives from downtown businesses, downtown residents and downtown visitors are related to intoxicated people and people who consume alcohol in public places," Small wrote.

Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Wheeler said he supports the police chief's recommendations and believes they would make the downtown area a safer place.

"If the environment isn't safe, or it's perceived unsafe, then my guess is that they're going to go someplace else and spend the money," he said. "That has no difference from age. Whether they're 21 or 61, if they have discretionary dollars to spend in our downtown and they don't feel it's safe, they're probably not going to go there."

Wheeler sees a potential issue looming with cameras being placed inside restaurants or bars, but he thinks having those devices would benefit the business owners.

"If I were a business owner, especially an owner of a bar or eating establishment that serves alcohol, I would want a surveillance system simply to protect myself," he said.

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