Late-night clubs on Decker Boulevard and Percival Road are the focus of a proposal to force last call at 2 a.m. in unincorporated Richland County.
So far, the discussion has centered on restricting business hours in suburban areas of Columbia represented by Richland Councilman Jim Manning, who requested the measure and received crime statistics from the Sheriffs Department that he said justify the early closing.
At a recent committee meeting, some County Council members broached the idea of taking the idea countywide. Others said they have no interest in pursuing such a measure.
For his part, Sheriff Leon Lott said closing trouble spots countywide from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. would be a tool to stem violence that crops up at about 10 late-night bars and clubs in Richland County. He declined to identify them.
Our goal is not to place any restrictions on legitimate business thats complying with the laws, the sheriff said. Were after problem areas where people are getting murdered, people are getting robbed, drugs are openly being used.
It was not immediately known how many local governments have instituted such restrictions since the S.C. Supreme Court cleared the way more than a decade ago. The director of the S.C. Sheriffs Association said he doesnt keep track and efforts to reach a lawyer for the S.C. Association of Counties were unsuccessful.
But the city of Columbia instituted an early closing law last summer that authorities say has contributed to a decrease in crime in hospitality areas.
Manning said he is responding to constituents who live in neighborhoods right behind Decker Boulevard clubs and are troubled by late-night noise.
The city of Columbia, they have places that are set up to be places to go party and have a good time, Manning said. Decker Boulevard, and same thing on Percival the businesses back up to somebodys backyard, and I just get so many calls: Were trying to get a nights rest to go to church in the morning, and its 3 oclock and theyre still partying. Its still loud.
In some cases, statistics show, problems go beyond noise to violent crime, car theft and weapons violations.
The Sheriffs Department compiled three years worth of data on 15 businesses located in Mannings district. Most are on Decker Boulevard, Percival Road and Two Notch Road. Complaints were dated January 2009 to March this year.
Club Elements, at 201 Columbia Mall Blvd., had the largest number of complaints. Among the 132 offenses were 13 aggravated assaults and one rape, five drug violations and nine car thefts.
The club was the site of a deadly shooting in April, when security guards fired on a patron in the parking lot who had hit a guard while leaving the scene in a car. No charges have been filed in the case, which is still under investigation, department spokesman Curtis Wilson said.
The Comedy House, at 2768 Decker Blvd., showed 91 offenses. They included 8 aggravated assaults and one rape, two drug violations and three car thefts.
Calls for comment made to both clubs Friday were not immediately returned.
Lott said he considered the Comedy House to be victimized by people outside the business.
Other addresses were on Parklane Road, West Beltline Boulevard and ONeil Court.
Many are familiar to Bill Shuler, a neighborhood activist who organizes protests of liquor licenses in the area.
Shuler said clubs with good security create a Catch 22 because officers chase off underage troublemakers who then move on to cause problems elsewhere. These young guys, man, they dont like authority.
In Columbia, bars that want to stay open past 2 a.m. must apply for permission. If crimes occur, the owners may be required to hire security or require employee training. After three violations, permission to stay open late may be revoked.
Twenty-four of the citys 100 to 130 clubs have permission to stay open past 2 a.m., Deputy Chief Ruben Santiago said. The city is in conversation with two of them about possibly revoking their extended hours.
Its at least produced conversations and partnerships between the city and businesses, Santiago said.
Lott said if Richland County pursues a change in closing times, Columbia may be a model. But he wont work on details of how a law might work unless he gets a signal from County Council that its interested in moving ahead, he said.
The issue is slated to be discussed in committee in July.
By then, Lotts office should have compiled data on offenses at bars throughout unincorporated Richland County, at the committees request, the Sheriffs Department said.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.