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Beltrami County Board; Beltrami County considers 1 a.m. closing for bars

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Bars in Beltrami County would be prohibited from selling alcohol after 1 a.m. under an ordinance to be discussed Tuesday by county commissioners.

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And Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp has joined Bemidji police Chief Gerald Johnson in opposing a proposed Bemidji city ordinance to allow bars to remain open until 2 a.m.

The Bemidji City Council holds its third and final reading of its ordinance on Monday night, spurred in part by a southeast Lake Bemdiji developer for Zorbaz, a bar/restaurant that seeks 2 a.m. closings for its properties throughout Minnesota.

"The City Council has said for years that public safety is a priority," Johnson said Thursday in a memo to the council and City Manager John Chatin. He noted that in 2011, the Police Department will be reduced from 31 to 29 officers and that the annual police budget has been reduced $200,000 from 2008 to 2011.

Johnson gives five reasons why Bemidji is different than other cities with 2 a.m. bar closing times.

E "Bemidji has a substantially higher crime rate than other cities mentioned in the 2 o'clock bar closing conversations," Johnson said.

E Bemidji officers handle more major crime calls than other city departments identified in bar closing discussions. Bemidji's calls per officer of 97 in 2009 rank higher than Brainerd at 81, Duluth at 72 or Minneapolis at 62.

E Bemidji patrol shifts already extend two hours past current bar closing time to handle after bar closing activities, such as DWIs, fights, assaults, domestics, sexual assaults, house parties, etc.

"It is hard to quantify the cost for an additional hour of bar operation," Johnson said. "Will this involve one bar or 15? This number would have an effect on the migration of patrons to and from the bars before and after closing."

E Minnesota Public Radio reported that when it comes to alcohol, Bemidji State University students are notorious for risky behaviors like binge drinking and driving under the influence, Johnson said.

E The goal and mission of the Police Department is public safety and to continue to work to reduce crime, and none of the cities with 2 a.m. bar closings report reduced crime or alcohol use.

"In over 30 years as an officer in the city of Bemidji, I have witnessed that alcohol is the No. 1 substance of abuse," Johnson said. "We need to move cautiously if we are to increase the availability of alcohol."

In a Dec. 3 letter opposing the 2 a.m. bar closing proposal for Bemidji, Sheriff Hodapp says that "extending bar closing hours in the city of Bemidji may have limited positive benefits, but from a public safety standpoint, it is (a) lousy idea."

The later closing time allows patrons to migrate from 1 a.m. establishments during the later drinking hours, he said. "This puts more impaired drivers on the road at a time when officers are also busy dealing with other calls for service and at a time when most accidents are likely to occur involving drunk drivers."

Generally, 5 percent of the Beltrami County Jail population is in custody for an alcohol-related offense, Hodapp said. Regardless of the crime with which offenders are charged, most people brought into custody are impaired with alcohol or controlled substances.

Hodapp said that at this time of year, the Law Enforcement Center lobby "serves as a 'bedroom of last resort' for intoxicated individuals who have no place to go during the early morning hours in our community because of a lack of services available to deal with this problem.

"Providing more opportunities for people to drink doesn't address our current alcohol issues -- it exacerbates them," he said.

Hodapp and County Attorney Tim Faver have asked that commissioners discuss a county ordinance during their Tuesday work session that begins at 3 p.m. in the County Adminnistration Building.

Faver notes that state law was amended several years ago to allow on-sale license holders to obtain a special permit to remain open from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m., and that the statute authorizes local units of government by ordnance to regulate hours of operation of liquor establishments.

"The city of Bemidji exercised that option, which means that alcohol may not be sold after 1 a.m.," Faver wrote in a memo. "The issue was never presented to the County Board, presumably because there was no interest in bars located in the county extending their hours."

It is appropriate for the board to consider amending its liquor control ordinance No. 44 to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages after 1 a.m., Faver said.

"Since the city is considering a 2 a.m. bar closing ordinance, this might be a good time to consider working with the city and small towns in our county to establish a consistent countywide policy to address the public safety issues that present themselves," Hodapp said in an e-mail to commissioners.

No bar owners in the county are currently seeking a 2 a.m. closing time, he said.

"Inconsistent policies between the municipalities and the county certainly can lead to potential unforeseen problems that affect public safety," Hodapp said.

Hodapp included a chart of calls to a bar, Git-R-Dun in Wilton, which is no longer operating. By far, most calls for service occurred between midnight and 3 a.m., and most calls involved fights or assaults.

If commissioners decide to amend the county ordinance to prohibit on-sale liquor sales after 1 a.m., three readings would be needed.

Bars in Beltrami County would be prohibited from selling alcohol after 1 a.m. under an ordinance to be discussed Tuesday by county commissioners.

And Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp has joined Bemidji police Chief Gerald Johnson in opposing a proposed Bemidji city ordinance to allow bars to remain open until 2 a.m.

The Bemidji City Council holds its third and final reading of its ordinance on Monday night, spurred in part by a southeast Lake Bemdiji developer for Zorbaz, a bar/restaurant that seeks 2 a.m. closings for its properties throughout Minnesota.

"The City Council has said for years that public safety is a priority," Johnson said Thursday in a memo to the council and City Manager John Chatin. He noted that in 2011, the Police Department will be reduced from 31 to 29 officers and that the annual police budget has been reduced $200,000 from 2008 to 2011.

Johnson gives five reasons why Bemidji is different than other cities with 2 a.m. bar closing times.

- "Bemidji has a substantially higher crime rate than other cities mentioned in the 2 o'clock bar closing conversations," Johnson said.

- Bemidji officers handle more major crime calls than other city departments identified in bar closing discussions. Bemidji's calls per officer of 97 in 2009 rank higher than Brainerd at 81, Duluth at 72 or Minneapolis at 62.

- Bemidji patrol shifts already extend two hours past current bar closing time to handle after bar closing activities, such as DWIs, fights, assaults, domestics, sexual assaults, house parties, etc.

"It is hard to quantify the cost for an additional hour of bar operation," Johnson said. "Will this involve one bar or 15? This number would have an effect on the migration of patrons to and from the bars before and after closing."

- Minnesota Public Radio reported that when it comes to alcohol, Bemidji State University students are notorious for risky behaviors like binge drinking and driving under the influence, Johnson said.

- The goal and mission of the Police Department is public safety and to continue to work to reduce crime, and none of the cities with 2 a.m. bar closings report reduced crime or alcohol use.

"In over 30 years as an officer in the city of Bemidji, I have witnessed that alcohol is the No. 1 substance of abuse," Johnson said. "We need to move cautiously if we are to increase the availability of alcohol."

In a Dec. 3 letter opposing the 2 a.m. bar closing proposal for Bemidji, Sheriff Hodapp says that "extending bar closing hours in the city of Bemidji may have limited positive benefits, but from a public safety standpoint, it is (a) lousy idea."

The later closing time allows patrons to migrate from 1 a.m. establishments during the later drinking hours, he said. "This puts more impaired drivers on the road at a time when officers are also busy dealing with other calls for service and at a time when most accidents are likely to occur involving drunk drivers."

Generally, 5 percent of the Beltrami County Jail population is in custody for an alcohol-related offense, Hodapp said. Regardless of the crime with which offenders are charged, most people brought into custody are impaired with alcohol or controlled substances.

Hodapp said that at this time of year, the Law Enforcement Center lobby "serves as a 'bedroom of last resort' for intoxicated individuals who have no place to go during the early morning hours in our community because of a lack of services available to deal with this problem.

"Providing more opportunities for people to drink doesn't address our current alcohol issues -- it exacerbates them," he said.

Hodapp and County Attorney Tim Faver have asked that commissioners discuss a county ordinance during their Tuesday work session that begins at 3 p.m. in the County Adminnistration Building.

Faver notes that state law was amended several years ago to allow on-sale license holders to obtain a special permit to remain open from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m., and that the statute authorizes local units of government by ordnance to regulate hours of operation of liquor establishments.

"The city of Bemidji exercised that option, which means that alcohol may not be sold after 1 a.m.," Faver wrote in a memo. "The issue was never presented to the County Board, presumably because there was no interest in bars located in the county extending their hours."

It is appropriate for the board to consider amending its liquor control ordinance No. 44 to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages after 1 a.m., Faver said.

"Since the city is considering a 2 a.m. bar closing ordinance, this might be a good time to consider working with the city and small towns in our county to establish a consistent countywide policy to address the public safety issues that present themselves," Hodapp said in an e-mail to commissioners.

No bar owners in the county are currently seeking a 2 a.m. closing time, he said.

"Inconsistent policies between the municipalities and the county certainly can lead to potential unforeseen problems that affect public safety," Hodapp said.

Hodapp included a chart of calls to a bar, Git-R-Dun in Wilton, which is no longer operating. By far, most calls for service occurred between midnight and 3 a.m., and most calls involved fights or assaults.

If commissioners decide to amend the county ordinance to prohibit on-sale liquor sales after 1 a.m., three readings would be needed.

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