Whether you drink it in your home or you frequent a local bar, alcohol is ubiquitous in our culture. For many, going to the bar is a casual pastime. Having a drink with coworkers or getting cocktails with your friends on a Friday evening is commonplace in most of America.
But for some, alcohol can be highly problematic. Its impact can extend beyond the individuals who may abuse it, and the results can be tragic. DUIs and alcohol-induced fits of violence can end up hurting people who didn’t make a choice to over-imbibe.
Casper’s newest police chief has suggested that the City Council review the role that bars might play in alcohol-related crime in our city. And it’s great that he wants to find solutions. Because DUIs and deadly bar fights are not things our community should be accustomed to.
The city has a demerit system that penalizes establishments for over-serving or serving to minors. But the system as it stands allows for a high number of demerits, or points against your liquor license, before corrective action is taken, such as suspending or revoking a liquor license. It can take a while before the city is able to step in when a bar is serving irresponsibly.
And bars should be held accountable when their employees over-serve. Liquor licenses come with rules and regulations for a reason: alcohol consumption in public establishments should be monitored, for the sake of public safety.
There are local watering holes that already closely monitor patrons’ intoxication and refuse to over-serve. Rowdiness is often not welcome in these establishments, and fights and bar brawls are uncommon.
Compare those places to bars that don’t; at a certain point in the night, things can get out of hand. The atmosphere is noticeably different.
Those bars should have a responsibility to reduce the probability of fights. They should be training bartenders and servers to recognize when a patron has had too much and empower employees to refuse service.
The City Council should consider reviewing the existing system to ensure that our liquor-serving establishments are operating responsibly, and that authorities have the tools needed to effectively address problems with over-serving. Because these businesses are good for the local economy and we want them to continue to have a positive impact on the community.
But we also think that when it comes to the risks associated with over-consumption of alcohol, like drunk driving or domestic violence, personal responsibility plays a key role. Bars should be responsible in how they serve customers, but ultimately, it is the customer’s responsibility to stay in control.
Another thing to consider is that penalizing bars for over-serving could discourage owners and employees from calling the police whenever things get out of hand. If a bartender is concerned that involving the police in a bar fight could lead to the establishment earning a demerit or losing its liquor license, they may not call them at all. And it may be difficult for bartenders and bouncers (if the establishments even have them) to de-escalate the situation on their own.
The City Council should hear public opinion about the issue, from bar patrons, bar owners, local community members and law enforcement. If a sensible solution can be reached, one that satisfies the needs of both local entrepreneurs and our police, the results will be far more effective.