URBANA – The Champaign County sheriff's office's calls for service after midnight have risen dramatically compared with a year ago, and the recent decisions by the city councils in Champaign and Urbana to allow alcohol sales to be extended until 2 a.m. could be one of the reasons why, a sheriff's sergeant said.
Sheriff's Sgt. Ed Ogle, who works the late shift, told members of the Champaign County Liquor Advisory Commission that the sheriff's office is seeing more calls, more domestic disputes occurring at later hours, more fights and more serious traffic accidents involving alcohol occurring at later hours.
His cautionary statements, along with similar comments by Sheriff Dan Walsh, prompted the liquor advisory commission to delay for three months a decision about whether to recommend to extend alcohol sales at county bars from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. The delay will be used to gather more data about alcohol-related crime and accidents.
Any final decision on extending alcohol sales and bar hours would be up to the Champaign County Board.
"I've seen our call load raise as a result of these extended hours already," Ogle said. "Saturday night, we have three DUIs and three accidents, two after 3 a.m. These people are more impaired. A 0.15 (percent blood alcohol content) was the lowest blood-alcohol level. One was over 0.20 (percent). We've had to hold calls because we're so tied up."
Under Illinois law, a driver is presumed to be under the influence with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more.
Champaign's extended alcohol sales from 1 to 2 a.m. took effect Aug. 20. Urbana followed suit on Aug. 26.
Using METCAD data, which dispatches police units throughout the county, Ogle said that sheriff's office calls for service between midnight and 7 a.m. for the period between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15 have increased dramatically over the past year.
A year ago, the sheriff's office answered 965 calls for service during this 46-day period. This year, the number totals 1,520, a 57.5 percent increase.
"This weekend, we were inundated with calls," Ogle said. "We were answering calls until 6 a.m."
Based on conversations with Champaign police officers, Ogle said he believes Champaign police are also handling an increased number of calls and not seeing any decrease in after-hours parties by students.
Walsh said that with extended hours, problem drinkers will use the extra hour to consume additional drinks and become more impaired. He said extended hours mean that the surge of calls for service that typically begins after midnight and lasts through 2 a.m. will be pushed further back into the shift. Walsh said he has a "power shift" of officers who work from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., and he cannot change those hours until Dec. 1 due to contractual obligations.
"If pushing back bar closing hours also pushes back a lot of this (alcohol-related criminal activity), we will have a manpower/overtime problem," he said.
In particular, later bar hours often mean that domestic disputes will occur later in the morning, as revelers arrive home, Walsh said.
Another problem the sheriff's office is experiencing is that the community of Ludlow has extended its bar hours until 3 a.m., and the town is becoming a magnet for late-night drinkers from two or three different counties. Deputies and Rantoul police have had to help Ludlow police handle some large-scale fights, Ogle said.
Commission member Ike Mapson, owner of the Malibu Bay Lounge in unincorporated Urbana, made a pitch at the meeting for extending county drinking hours until 3 a.m. and letting bars stay open until 4 a.m.
Mapson said shift workers who get off work after midnight deserve to be able to go to a local bar and have a few drinks for a few hours. As it stands now, many travel to Westville in Vermilion County or to Kappa in McLean County, where bars are open until 4 a.m., he said.
"It is up to each individual bar owner to manage their bar," Mapson said. "We do not let anybody come in drunk."
Mapson said the current situation, with Urbana and Champaign allowing later drinking hours, is hurting his bar and TK Wendl's in particular.
But commission member Steve Moser, R-rural St. Joseph, responded that both Mapson and the owner of TK Wendl's could seek annexation by Urbana if they wanted to.
County board Chairwoman Patricia Avery, D-Champaign, made the proposal to have the commission wait for three months before making any recommendation.
You can reach Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or via e-mail at email@example.com.