Naperville candidates discuss downtown safety
After a tumultuous 2012 in downtown Naperville — which included a grisly murder, multiple stabbings and several fights — the 11 city council candidates in the April 9 election are offering a variety of proposals to return the area to a more family friendly environment.
Police Chief Robert Marshall, who has made cleaning up downtown his top priority, has begun enacting a multifaceted enforcement plan to combat the public intoxication and fights that seem to have become more frequent, especially on weekend nights. Several candidates, however, believe more responsibility must fall on the bar owners and patrons.
Incumbent Judith Brodhead supports Marshall's plan but would like to see the city council put more pressure on the local liquor commission.
"I strongly support cracking down much more quickly on establishments that are not complying with existing laws and supporting those that are proactive in creating and maintaining a safe environment," she said. "I support the police department's plan to shift some assignments so some civilian employees can free up uniformed officers to assist in this effort.
"Continued dialogue and communication between the businesses, our public safety professionals and residents will help us create workable solutions without breaking the budget."
Kevin Coyne, a local attorney and member of the city's planning and zoning commission, said the city's reputation has taken a hit because of its recent notoriety.
"Our downtown is the crown jewel of our city. In recent years, it has begun to lose its reputation as being a safe place, at least at night. Persistent late-night drinking-related problems are ruining our reputation and making residents feel unsafe." he said. "Bar owners need to figure it out, whether it be looking at their drink specials or changing the type of music they play that attracts this behavior. The perception is that the city is not putting enough pressure on the liquor commissioner (Mayor George Pradel) to come down hard on those who can't operate a peaceful establishment."
Jeff Davis said he rarely is out past 10:30 p.m. to witness the weekend night life, but he's talked to several residents and business owners about a reachable solution.
"Ultimately, it comes down to training and ensuring that every single employee has been through the Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training training," he said. "These are isolated incidents that I believe could be curbed with proper training, because I believe Naperville is still the safest place to be."
Wayne Floegel said he doesn't think downtown safety is an issue, but more "something we should keep an eye on."
"Safety is not the issue, but the overserving of patrons may be an issue in isolated areas," Floegel said. "So I think the key is making sure these people are educated and cracking down on them when they become repeat offenders. And we need to pressure the liquor commission to pull the licenses of the repeat offenders."
Tom Glass said safety in the downtown should be a concern to everyone who dines or socializes there. But the problem, he said, could be easily solved by increasing police presence and paying more attention to zoning ordinances.
"We're already taxing everyone downtown with SECA (a fund for cultural amenities) and money that is collected via the SECA tax should be used to provide additional policing during the late evening hours downtown instead of being spent funding the carillon or the DuPage Children's Museum," Glass said. "And pay attention to what you're putting there. If this Water Street plan is approved with a Holiday Inn Express, just watch downtown become the bachelor or bachelorette party headquarters of the Midwest."
Bill Habel said he believes the safety concerns could be addressed by a meeting of the minds.
"Safety should always be the number one concern to everyone in the city, so I'm proposing the organization of a multilateral group of citizens, business owners and city departments to discuss, gain consensus and implement a downtown safety-first strategy," Habel said. "The community can work together and help ensure a safe and pleasurable experience in our downtown, day or night."
Incumbent Paul Hinterlong said he believes the business owners can work toward a solution, and he supports Marshall's plan to guide them along.
"Empowering our businesses to meet these challenges is a role of our city government. If an establishment continually fails to keep an orderly atmosphere, we must be ready as a city to hand down appropriate action so all can understand the importance of keeping our downtown both orderly and prosperous," he said. "I believe the chief is on the right track with his new policies, and I look forward to its success."
Incumbent Doug Krause said there is no need to implement any new laws or plans. Everyone just needs to follow the laws that already exist.
"The bottom line is that we have a problem with enforcement," he said. "Those who are overserving should be punished in front of the liquor commission, and those pre-drinking in their cars in the parking garages to save money should be punished before a judge."
Krause said he has frequently visited the downtown late on weekends to see what all the fuss is about.
"It's a really strange feeling to look around at 1 a.m. and realize you're the only sober person in sight," he said.
John Krummin says the issue of downtown safety needs to be forefront on everyone's mind to prohibit "a few one-off incidents" from becoming the norm.
The key, he said, is to have police patrols focusing on the late-night revelers who are drinking in their cars before they can even get to the bar and for bar owners to be communicating on a nightly basis so everyone knows which patrons have been cut off from which establishments.
"The police and other civic leaders are working on many solutions, and I believe I will be a highly-valued team member in getting to core issues of the problem, identifying possible solutions, and then ensuring effective implementation," he said. "I have a way of getting answers by bringing people together to talk things through."
Jo Malik said she hears a lot about the downtown's weekend night life from her son, who works as a bouncer at several downtown bars.
"I know everyone has had the (alcohol sellers) training, but that's not enough. You ask for problems like this when you hire young, inexperienced bouncers who are more concerned about staying outside and looking cool than checking for overserved patrons," she said. "And these repeat offenders — we all know who they are — keep getting slaps on the wrist. The council needs to pressure the liquor commission to strip them of their licenses. How many chances are we going to give these people?"
David Wentz, however, says he has made it a point to visit the downtown at least once every weekend since October, between 8 p.m. and midnight, and he believes Marshall's plan is already working.
"Many taverns involved have been aggressively checking IDs better, and there's been a better police presence," he said.
Wentz said he would support a plan that would require tavern owners, as part of obtaining a late-night liquor permit, to obtain a device that would automatically scan drivers licenses after 11 p.m.
"I also support increased communication between the owners," he said. "They have a far more vested interest than any other business downtown and the responsibility is on them to maintain a safe environment at all hours."
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