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Janesville police pleased with no-serve list, so far

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Frank Schultz
March 8, 2014

JANESVILLE—They aren't criminals, but police think a few Janesville residents are so troublesome that they've sent an updated list of names and pictures to bars and liquor stores.

The message: Please don't serve these people.

Residents are placed on the list if they have had at least three negative police contacts in which they were intoxicated over a six-month period.

Those contacts include trips to jail or to the hospital for detoxification.

Police issued the first list last summer, with 10 names. They updated the list in January.

Initial indications are that the list is doing what police intended, at least in some cases.

Police have had fewer incidents with most of the people on the first list, and a couple of those on the first list told police they are working to correct their behavior, Deputy Chief Dan Davis said.

Shame, or at least bad publicity, it appears, had an effect.

Some wanted the new list to come out so their names could be removed, Davis said.

Of the 10 people on the first list, seven behaved well enough not to be included on the new list.

The new list, however, has 12 names. Davis said that's because the department's new records system allows for better data searches, which helped police find more troublemakers more easily.

The next time the list comes out, probably in August, there might be even more names, but that doesn't mean the number of problem drinkers has increased, Davis said. Rather, it's because it's easier to identify them.

The main problem for police is time. Unruly drinkers often are committed to detox treatment, but it takes time—sometimes hours—until a doctor can give clearance for the detox commitment. Officers wait with the patient until that happens.

“We kind of have a good-neighbor agreement with Mercy Hospital, that if there are people we bring in who are combative and unruly, we'll stay and provide security for their staff, Davis said.

The wait keeps officers from patrolling the streets or other duties.

“These are people who consume a lot of the taxpayers' dollars, and it's our effort to solve that issue, and, quite frankly, it's probably good for the individual, too,” Police Chief Dave Moore said.

The list doesn't always work. Bartenders don't always know that someone on the list is at the bar, Davis acknowledged.

Some bartenders have called police, or residents have contacted police to say they saw someone on the list going into a bar, Davis said.

Police went to the bars in those cases, and the situations were resolved with little incident, Davis said.

In one case, the person agreed to leave. In another, bar staff declined to serve the person.

Davis said he's aware there's a constitutional issue at play. Courts have ruled that the 1st Amendment allows people to associate with anyone they want to.

The no-serve list is worded to avoid that issue, Davis said. It does not prohibit someone from being in a bar. It only asks licensed establishments not to serve the the person alcohol.

Also, anyone who objects to being on the list is allowed to appeal to the city's Alcohol License Advisory Committee.

“We are told, from a constitutional standpoint, that as long as we are addressing behavior and not the fact that they have an alcohol-abuse disorder, and we give them a due-process hearing to speak their case, to object, that we're on pretty good ground,” Davis said.

In one case, a man on the initial list objected. He told Davis that he is an alcoholic, and police were interfering with his disease.

The man, when he is sober, says he does not want to be an alcoholic. When he is drinking, he often calls police for help. That's what got him on the list, but the man never caused a disturbance, Davis said.

The man called because he recognized he had drunk so much that he needed medical attention, Davis said.

“It's different than being in a bar raising hell or out on the street breaking stuff and harassing people, so I thought, you know what?  I agree with him,” Davis said.

Davis took him off the list.

Wiggy's Saloon owner Patrick Wygans said his bartenders saw few problems before the list came out, and he knows of only one person from the list who has entered his bar.

“We gave him a water, and he went on his way,” Wygans said.

A downtown bartender likewise told The Gazette that experienced barkeeps know who the troublemakers are, and they will refuse them service if the situation warrants.

Green Bay has a similar program, and Milwaukee was considering one, according to press reports.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin's only concern is that bar owners shouldn't be punished for inadvertently serving someone on the list, said Pete Madland, the league's executive director.

“If they do a reasonable approach, we don't have a  problem with it,” Madland said.

The list has its uses, but it's not a perfect solution to problem drinkers, Davis said. And it's too early to say how effective the list will be.

Three people on the first list were included on the second list.

“We were never under the illusion that this was going to fix it,” Davis said. “It was intended to give us another tool to try to make it better.”



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