Using new ordinance, Columbia Police prepare to tackle problem bars

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Eighteen Five Points bars can stay open all night – as far as the City of Columbia is concerned.

"Those of us that live in that area know that much of the vandalism, drunkenness, noise, crime occurs two o'clock and after," said Dick Harpootlian, an attorney who lives near Five Points.

A controversial plan, proposed by Councilman Howard Duvall months ago, would have ended special permits that allow some bars to stay open past two. Instead, after a vote Tuesday night, Columbia City Council passed something else: a compromise that won't close bars earlier but will hold them to new standards.

"I think what they walked away with (Tuesday) night was a good end product," said Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook.

The new ordinance gives Holbrook – and his men and women – more control over the late-night bars. Now, it'll be the Columbia Police Department who decides whether or not to give a bar a permit to stay open late.

"Obviously, we would not be permitting an establishment that we're having problems with. That's common sense, but unfortunately, that practice wasn't in place before," Holbrook said.

But that's not all. Violating the new ordinance will be considered criminal and will allow Chief Holbrook to suspend permits and fine bars that encourage bad behavior. Bars will have to show a food menu, have a safety plan, and pay a much higher fee to get or renew a permit.

"We're going to place an emphasis on enforcement and underage drinking – holding the bars accountable," Holbrook said. "I would expect that somebody is, you know, probably going to test the waters. You know, they may not get the message that, you know, this is a big step for the city and for what we consider problem bar operations."

Meanwhile, Harpootlian – who points out other ordinances he says the city hasn't enforced – is skeptical.

"I litigate for a living. That's what I do," Harpootlian said. "I was a prosecutor for 12 years. I've been doing defense work. I do civil work. That's right up my alley. And if the city doesn't enforce the law, we will."

Harpootlian is referring to two legal challenges he's already filed. As a result of one of them, a bar in Five Points lost its license to serve alcohol. Harpootlian said he'll take on others if he has to.

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