State legislators look into requiring police send reports to alcohol regulators | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

State legislators look into requiring police send reports to alcohol regulators

Posted By on Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 9:34 AM

LOOKING TO PREVENT OTHER CLUB PROBLEMS: Legislators want police to communicate more with alcohol regulators.
  • LOOKING TO PREVENT OTHER CLUB PROBLEMS: Legislators want police to communicate more with alcohol regulators.
Legislators discussed Tuesday whether Arkansas police departments should be required to send reports of police intervention at establishments licensed to serve alcohol to state regulators.

The meeting of the House and Senate Committees on state agencies and governmental affairs comes as legislators look for ways that the mass shooting at the Power Ultra Lounge in Little Rock on July 1, in which 28 were injured, could have been prevented.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) unveiled a proposal to study the way that police agencies report to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Division. Williams said reports that the local law enforcement agencies had been called "as low as 30 and as high as 50 times" to the club without ABC being properly informed caused him concern.

"We give that permit with criteria," Williams said. "We have to ask ourselves as a body when do we say, 'No, no, we got to get a permit back?' "

The club — which was licensed as a restaurant-mixed drink venue — had been on the radar of ABC, said Boyce Hamlet, director of the ABC's enforcement division, but the agency was unable to take actions to revoke the license.

"We knew there [were] some issues at that club," he said. "I had conversations with Little Rock’s Vice Unit. But, it never rose to the level where we could pull a permit."

Mary Casteel, director of ABC, said that her agency does have problems, but it may not be in communication, but rather with "the tools at our disposal."

Casteel said that the maximum fine ABC can impose is $1,000, and $3,000 over an entire year, which she called "completely ineffective" for profitable clubs.

"A $1,000 [fine] is not dissuading them from doing anything," she said.

Casteel said that giving her agency "more teeth" could be a better solution than increasing communication.

But, there is still what Mike Feehan, senior staff attorney for the Bureau of Legislative Research, called a "gap in the law" in terms of whether the police are required to talk with state regulators.

"As it stands right now there are no laws that require law enforcement agencies to send reports about misconduct of ABC permits to either of the ABC agencies," he said. "[Law enforcement] have to decide from their understanding."

There is also currently no formal procedure in place for reporting violations by police, Hamlet said. Instead, the ABC's enforcement division of 19 agents, including Hamlet, work with local law enforcement, who are "pretty good about getting us what we need to know," he said.

Hamlet emphasized that "every police report does not necessarily need to be reported to ABC," mentioning things like personal disputes and cars being broken into on the premise of alcohol providers.

"We’d get a lot of reports that we don’t necessarily need," he said of a potential requirement.

Mike Godfrey, executive director of Arkansas Sheriffs' Association, echoed Hamlet's sentiment in that a requirement would mean ABC would get "an overwhelming amount of information."

"[We] have no problem turning over any information, I just think it’s going to be a lot," he said.

Williams, however, felt that all the reports could help map a trend because "if you’ve got a lot of illegal activity around a club, you’ve got a powder keg," he said.

At the end of the meeting, Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) asked Hamlet directly if he felt his state beverage regulator could have done anything to prevent the shooting.

"I’ve asked myself that question numerous times," Hamlet said. "I don’t have an answer. I don’t have an easy answer for you."

Williams seemed unhappy with this response.

“We know there are some solutions out there," he told Hamlet and legislators, asking that when the committee meets again in two weeks to "please bring solutions to the table."

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