Urbana and Champaign officials continue to look closely at public safety issues in the wake of fatal nightclub incidents in Chicago and Rhode Island.
Urbana Police Chief Eddie Adair said Monday he will be meeting soon with Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite, who is also the liquor commissioner in Urbana, to discuss concerns.
Police and fire officials will also be meeting with Urbana liquor license holders - the city has 25 Class A liquor licenses - to go over some things, including overcrowding inside and immediately outside some establishments, Adair said.
?We will be doing some re-education, in some cases,? Adair said. ?We've also stepped up enforcement in the campus area of Urbana.?
Recent incidents at the E2 nightclub in Chicago and the Station Concert Club in West Warwick, R.I., left 21 and 98 people dead, respectively. Overcrowding and insufficient exits are believed to be a factor in the panic that ensued in Chicago when some pepper spray was used to quell a fight. A crowded exit may also be a factor in the Rhode Island club fire which started with some fireworks that were part of a band's performance.
It's not just issues of crowded bars and blocked exits, though officials in both cities have inspected liquor establishments recently to check compliance with building codes and capacity limits.
Many crimes in and around the University of Illinois campus are believed to be alcohol-related, according to Adair.
?In many instances, we've found that the victims themselves have consumed alcohol to excess before the incidents,? Adair said.
Violent crimes - murder, rape, robbery, assault and battery - increased about 3.6 percent from a total of 911 incidents in 2001 to 944 crimes in 2002. That includes a 57 percent increase in rape and increases of about 4 percent each in robbery and battery.
?The level of violence - fighting among themselves - has increased in some establishments,? Adair said. ?There is also impaired judgment and bad decision-making whenever alcohol is involved.?
Adair said Urbana police will continue to work with Urbana fire safety inspectors to look at public safety issues.
Over the past weekend, Champaign fire inspectors, accompanied by Champaign police officers, checked 10 Class A liquor license facilities, according to fire inspector Bob Pettyjohn. Those facilities included some of the smallest and some of the largest liquor establishments in the city, he said.
?Overall, they did pretty good,? Pettyjohn said. ?There was some overcrowding and some obstructed exits we dealt with case by case.?
Pettyjohn declined to name any of the facilities inspected over the weekend or provide details of any specific inspection. Inspectors generally advised managers on what was found and corrected some safety problems on the spot, he said.
In one of the larger, multilevel bars in Champaign, there was severe overcrowding apparently because the crowd was congregated mostly in one room where a band was playing rather than being dispersed throughout the bar.
The crowd thinned quickly when police entered the bar, Pettyjohn said. It was explained to the management that capacity in any given room depends on the square footage and number of exits for that room. It's not just the overall building capacity that determines building safety.
?If you have a room with a capacity of 300 and you bring in 200 people more to hear a band, you've got a problem in an emergency,? Pettyjohn said.
Problems were also found with crowding in foyers and doorways of some establishments, he said. Staffs in those places were advised to have people line up outside so they did not block the exit.
?In some cases, the staff was unaware of how many people could be in the building,? Pettyjohn said. ?Most knew (the capacity) and were counting, but some didn't have a clue. We will be monitoring some places pretty closely,? Pettyjohn said.
Letters will be sent to the liquor establishments that were inspected advising them of what was found, he said. Inspections will continue for other license holders.
You can reach Steve Bauer at (217) 351-5318 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .