PRC Resources

PRC in the News

from the September 10, 2006 edition of The Boston Globe

Cities eye earlier bar last calls

HAVERHILL (The Boston Globe) – Shoe City may be giving the boot to 2 a.m. bar closing times, a move that would put Haverhill on a path recently chosen by a number of other communities in the region that have grappled with public safety and noise control issues surrounding night clubs.

Worried that his city is becoming a magnet for unruly, late-night crowds, Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini is urging the Licensing Commission to end an 18-month experiment with later closing times for bars and restaurants. The mayor's request follows an August stabbing at a downtown club, and comes along with police data showing a rise in problems downtown since hours were extended.

The commission is slated to vote tomorrow night on Fiorentini's proposal to change bar closings from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekends and to debate a rollback from 1 a.m. to midnight on weekdays -- proposals opposed by local bar owners.

Officials in nearby Lawrence last month voted to roll back bar closing hours to 1 a.m., leaving Friday night into Saturday morning as the only time bars may stay open until 2 a.m. The new rule, which will go into effect at the end of the month, follows the Aug. 5 fatal shooting of a 19-year-old who had been out drinking with friends shortly before the 3 a.m. attack.

``That is not the element we want in our city," Fiorentini said, noting the recent rollback in Lawrence. ``We know we have this big upswing in disturbance calls from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m."

Haverhill's Licensing Commission voted last September to continue an experiment that allowed 2 a.m. closings, despite protests from the city's police chief, who reported a spike in service calls for some downtown locations during the additional hour that bars were open.

Bar owners questioned the data and said they would take a financial hit with earlier closing times. The commission's chairman, Joseph Edwards, supported the extended hours last year, saying that he had gone out to assess the night life and found no problems.

Now, Edwards said, he is not so sure.

``The entire atmosphere of downtown has changed. It's becoming a residential area," he said. ``It may not be in their best interest to have people leaving a night club at 2 a.m."

That's the thinking of Revere Mayor Thomas Ambrosino, who said that if his city could start from scratch, officials would likely not allow bars to stay open until 2 a.m., the current closing time for most of the city's bars.

Ambrosino said that over the past couple of years, Revere authorities have required earlier closing times when granting new liquor licenses, largely out of concern that Revere may become a magnet for people from surrounding towns who are seeking a later last call.

``If I had my preference," Ambrosino said, ``I probably would want an earlier closing time, but it has a significant impact on licensees who have never had a problem and have had longstanding 2 a.m. licenses, so it's a balancing act."

Research is mixed on whether shortened bar hours produce fewer problems, said Jim Mosher, a center director at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a Maryland-based nonprofit that studies alcohol regulations and their impact .

``The weight of the evidence is that you will have an impact. You will reduce problems by closing earlier," Mosher said. ``But there is some redistribution effect. For instance, if you close at 1 instead of 2, you get the drunk driving at 1 a.m. instead."

A recent study, co authored by institute scientist Joel Grube, found a significant drop in the number of homicides -- a decline of nine per month -- in the Brazilian city of Diadema after bar closing times there were rolled back to 11 p.m. Previously, the city had allowed bars to remain open around the clock.

`` We would not expect such a dramatic impact of a closing hours law to generalize to all cultures or countries," Grube wrote. ``Nevertheless, these results are consistent with the literature linking alcohol availability and violence. "

Grube and Mosher said that it would be much tougher to accurately measure the impact of a more modest rolling back of bar hours, such as the ones proposed or recently enacted in communities north of Boston. Overall, they said, there is very little research in the United States on modest changes to bar hours.

Communities that pass sweeping restrictions after a high-profile crime or disturbance are ``throwing out the baby with the bath water," said Peter Christie, president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, a trade association that represents the food and beverage industry.

``Not all people play by the rules. There are laws on the books to deal with over-serving, and not everyone should be punished because some are doing it wrong," Christie said.

``Having a liquor license really is a privilege, and if someone is not living up to their responsibility, I would be the last person to defend them," Christie added. ``But just saying that places are open too late is probably not addressing the problem."

Saugus officials -- who rolled back the closing time for the now-defunct Palace nightclub after several instances of violence in 2004 -- recently opted for a different approach with another problem-plagued nightclub, Tabu.

In an Aug. 28 agreement between Saugus selectmen and the nightclub, Tabu agreed to improve lighting in its parking lot and to hire a security service for the premises. It also agreed to perform joint sound and vibration testing with the town and to maintain music volumes at levels to be determined after the testing.

Many neighbors who spoke at a public hearing ``said that if noise could be controlled, they didn't need to be closed early," said Wendy Reed, clerk for the Saugus selectmen.

``If this doesn't work, they still face a chance they will get a rollback" from the 2 a.m. closing time, she said. ``This is an opportunity to give them a chance to correct the problems."