Late-night bar crowds raising concerns
By Hank Beckman For The Sun October 18, 2012 5:24PM
Downtown Naperville is a popular entertainment destination for young people from throughout the area. The City Council is examining some new rules for drinking establishments in the downtown area. | Sun File photo
Updated: November 20, 2012 11:04AM
The amount of drinking and carousing in downtown Naperville late at night — and some recent fights and an armed robbery — have some city leaders calling for a crackdown on the party scene in the city center.
Police Chief Robert Marshall said, in a new twist, some people have actually been “tailgaiting” on the outskirts of the district, drinking and even using drugs, sometimes in the city’s parking garages. He promised police would begin patrolling the garages more thoroughly.
Marshall attributed part of the problem lately to the lack of police presence, noting that some officers who were normally assigned to the downtown district on weekend nights during the summer were back at their regular assignments as school resource officers.
“When bars close, we have hundreds of people on the streets of downtown Naperville,” he said.
He said the department would be boosting its presence downtown to deal with the crowds, assigning four more officers to overtime duty on weekend nights between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Some recent problems have put the issue of late-night safety in downtown Naperville front and center. On Oct. 7, two armed robbers stole the purses of two women near Jackson Avenue and Main Street. There have also been a few scuffles in downtown. Also, a DuPage County judge last week passed sentence on a man who stabbed a security worker at BlackFinn American Saloon on March 6, 2011. The man, Adam B. Hearn, 33, of Lombard, was found guilty of felony aggravated battery.
In the worst tragedy, schoolteacher Shaun Wild was stabbed to death Feb. 4 inside Frankie’s Blue Room.
Some are concerned that the number of bars downtown attracts hard-core partiers, some of whom overindulge and get into trouble.
Marshall said another contributing factor to some problems downtown is that some drinking establishments get crowded to the point of being over capacity. He said the department works together with the Naperville Fire Department to do random checks to make sure that the bars don’t get dangerously crowded.
Where previously the Fire Department had been doing checks early in the evening, the new strategy is to conduct them during the busy hours after 10 p.m.
But when the topic was raised at this week’s City Council meeting, some members balked at the idea of putting firefighters in danger.
Councilman Doug Krause warned against using them to do a job for which they are not trained. Marshall stressed the Police Department was partnering with the Fire Department and would not allow firefighters to enter a bar without a police officer.
Councilman Bob Fieseler touched on an approach that has come up in the past: shortening the hours in which liquor can be sold.
Fieseler suggested ending alcohol sales at midnight during the week and 1 a.m. on weekends, thereby setting “last call” a half-hour earlier than now.
“Nothing good happens after midnight,” he said.
Councilman Joe McElroy called restricting hours “the nuclear option,” and noted that some of the problem might not be the fault of individual bar owners. But he also said that limiting hours was an action the council might have to eventually take to deal with problems caused by especially heavy drinkers.
“They are half in the bag when they get there,” he said of the condition of some people frequenting the downtown on weekends.
Councilman Paul Hinterlong said that some of the blame needs to fall on bar owners and managers.
“People are being over-served,” he said.
Councilman Grant Wehrli agreed with Hinterlong, saying that the issue “is about enforcement” of current policies.
Wehrli also said that the city might consider shortening the hours of establishments that were repeatedly involved in violent incidents.
“That’s a really good idea,” McElroy said.
He said the city needs to make sure that the downtown remains an attractive place to go at night.
Councilwoman Judith Brodhead said that people need to keep in mind that Naperville is a very safe city. That’s true even late at night, she said.
“Our reputation is one of the most valuable assets we have,” she said.