Richland to consider 2 a.m. closing for bars

Sheriff supports mandate for safety; others say it unfairly targets nightclubs

09/09/2012 12:00 AM

09/09/2012 12:08 AM

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said he supports a mandatory 2 a.m. closing for bars in unincorporated areas as a way to address late-night violence and property crime.

As Richland County Council prepares to take up the bar closing proposal Tuesday, Lott noted that two nightclub security guards were shot and killed on separate weekends in August in the county.

Without question, he said, requiring bars to close earlier would cut down on violent crime.

“I don’t believe – I know it would,” he said.

Late-night crime data compiled by the sheriff’s department does not appear to show any significant increases for assault, rape or murder going back to January 2009. The data, divided by County Council district, does not break out club-related crimes.

The discussion on Richland County Council started as a district proposal by Councilman Jim Manning that didn’t appear to have much support.

Still, the council could consider taking a countywide approach, as Lott prefers.

No counties in South Carolina have enacted early bar closings since a S.C. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way in May 2004.

“To my knowledge, there aren’t any,” said Susan Turkopuls, senior research associate with the S.C. Association of Counties. “That seems to be more of a city issue.”

Manning has asked the council to pass a mandatory, 2 a.m. closing in the district he represents, affecting businesses along portions of major corridors such as Decker Boulevard, Percival Road and Two Notch Road.

Manning said constituents are disturbed by late-night noise along corridors that once housed neighborhood businesses, not after-hours clubs. And many of those clubs back right up to neighborhoods.

“It’s to reduce noise and crime,” he said.

Manning proposed the measure in February 2010, about the same time the city of Columbia was wrestling with the issue. It’s been stuck at the committee level ever since. In July, the development and services committee forwarded the measure to the council for consideration – but without a recommendation either for or against passage.

Among the concerns were that having a “curfew” for bars in just one district would place those businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

As a result, the committee asked Lott’s office to compile the countywide crime data.

In an interview, Lott recommended against following in the steps of the city of Columbia, which allows clubs to stay open later than 2 a.m. if they receive an exemption. Some bar owners say the system isn’t working well.

“It should be a set time – 2 o’clock, you close the door,” Lott said. “You’re done and it’s over with. That way, there’s no gray areas.

“We don’t need to have gray areas. We need it to be plain and simple, black and white.”

But council chairman Kelvin Washington, for one, said he won’t support a countywide approach.

“I don’t know if that thing’s going to fly,” Washington said.

“The business community’s going to be kind of upset. ... Then also, you have to analyze what we’re trying to achieve and then concentrate on that. If it’s noise, enforce that (law).”

Outgoing Councilwoman Gwendolyn Davis Kennedy said passing such a law would require a community discussion. “We need to make sure they understand what we are trying to achieve with this, and not just shove it down their throats,” she said.

“A lot of residents would feel it’s unfair. You have some areas that have no problems. That’s my biggest concern.”

Marcy Taylor, who manages a private club on Two Notch Road called Club Fetish that typically stays open until 3:30 a.m., said the county needs to extend the conversation to the business community.

“It would have been nice if I had been informed, if that is going to affect my business. If they’re punishing many for the faults of a few,” she said.

Taylor said nearby trouble spots already have closed.

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