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Metro Council looks to increase enforcement against problem bars

An evening shot of the Bardstown Road district in Louisville.
Scott Smithson
An evening shot of the Bardstown Road district in Louisville.

Louisville Metro Council is expected to vote this week on whether to increase the number of officers who regulate the bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. 

The proposed ordinance would give Louisville Metro’s Department of Codes and Regulations an additional $388,000 to hire three more Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) enforcement officers. The new officers would patrol on nights and weekends, targeting late-night establishments that create a public safety risk. 

District 8 Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong is sponsoring the proposal. Chambers Armstrong, who represents most of the Bardstown Road bar district, has pushed for changes in the area after three people were shot and killed there over a two month period this summer.

“Not every establishment, but some places are making money by having very loose policies around checking people for guns, checking people for weapons and letting people carry these weapons into situations that then escalate,” she said. “We should not be letting people make money off of creating public safety risks and situations where people are dying.”

Chambers Armstrong had initially proposed a plan to temporarily pull back Louisville’s ‘last call’ from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. in an effort to address late-night violence. After numerous public meetings and talks with local bar owners, she proposed a new plan that called for fines and additional enforcement against businesses that are over-serving patrons, allowing drug sales on their premises and not enforcing the state’s ban on guns in bars. 

The additional ABC enforcement officers would work across the city, not just in the Highlands. In addition to hiring more ABC enforcement officers, the proposed spending would go toward training for businesses.

“We want to train bartenders, bar staff, bar owners on ‘What do you do when you notice someone has a gun in a bar?’ ‘What do you do whenever an argument breaks out and the situation starts to escalate, either in your establishment or on the sidewalk in front of it?’” Chambers Armstrong said.

“We’ve needed the help for a long time.”

Louisville Metro currently has just six ABC enforcement officers. 

The six officers oversee more than 1,300 businesses with active liquor licenses, as well as licensed taxi cabs, food truck vendors and pawn shops. They have full police powers, can make arrests and are tasked with enforcing local laws related to those businesses.

If enforcement officers find a business is violating local rules, it could be subject to fines or, in some circumstances, a revocation of its license. ABC officials say officers tend to focus on educating business owners on the regulations and conducting follow-up visits to gain compliance. 

Lt. Bradley Silveria, who oversees staffing for the ABC Enforcement Division, told Metro Council’s Budget Committee last week that they desperately need more support.

“We’ve needed the help for a long time,” he said. “We’ve had the same number of staff since [the 2003] merger. The responsibilities have kind of tacked on, but the staff never really caught up to the responsibilities.”

Silveria said the $388,000 would allow the division to have three enforcement officers out in the community every weekend.

Louisville ABC Administrator Robert Kirchdorfer said they hope to make a noticeable difference if Metro Council approves the proposal.

“Just being able to go in and knock on the doors and talk to the business owners and show a presence that they know we’re there; we think that will go a long way in getting compliance,” Kirchdorfer said.

Where will the money come from?

The ordinance initially proposed funding the new ABC officer positions with federal pandemic relief money. Louisville Metro hasn’t yet decided how to spend most of the $388 million it's expected to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by the U.S. Congress.

Metro Council and Mayor Greg Fischer agreed earlier this year to a lengthy process of identifying priority funding areas, creating committees to define needs under those categories and putting out requests for proposals. Public safety was one of the top priority areas.

The proposed ordinance for enforcement officers had an initial hearing last week at Metro Council’s Budget Committee. Many council members, including District 5 representative Donna Purvis, agreed that it’s necessary.

“I have constituents calling me all the time about certain businesses that they see underage children being served alcohol and purchasing alcohol, but we have no enforcement,” Purvis said. 

Council President David James, of District 6, said he would co-sponsor the ordinance.

Some members disagreed, however, arguing the funding should not come from federal COVID relief. 

While District 19 Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini said he fully supports increasing enforcement, he was conflicted about the source of funding. He recommended the money come from the city’s general fund budget instead.

“If we think this is a priority and we screwed up as a council by not putting it in there, then let’s look back at the budget, find $388,000 from some place and make a budget amendment, as opposed to going through ARPA, which should be a thoughtful and deliberate process that we haven’t finished executing yet,” Piagentini said. 

The Budget Committee voted eight to one to move the ordinance forward for a vote by the full Metro Council on Thursday. Before it goes to a final vote, Chambers Armstrong has agreed to amend the ordinance to fund the new enforcement officer positions through the general fund rather than federal COVID relief .

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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