Our Views: 'Do not serve' list serving Janesville as police intended

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Early returns indicate the Janesville Police Department's “do not serve” list is proving to be another effective program.

 The department last summer named 10 habitual drunks to its first “do not serve” list. While the second list has 12 names, don't think the project didn't work as intended. Only three people named the first time remain on the revised list.

Those on the list had at least three police contacts in the past six months due to intoxication. These contacts burn up police and emergency services funded by tax dollars. The list gives bartenders the encouragement and support they need to say “no” to these people. Public disclosure of their names, in turn, might nudge some to get needed help.

You wouldn't expect it to save every problem drinker. But the list seems to be working for some. Police report the number of incidents involving those on the first list dwindled. Deputy Chief Dan Davis said a couple of people on the list told police they are working to change their habits.

While some of these people get their alcohol fixes elsewhere, the list serves as another weapon in the box of tools for pushing the worst of the worst toward sobriety.

The reason the updated list contains more names, Davis told reporter Frank Schultz in last Sunday's Gazette, is because the department's new records system eases data searches that identify troublemakers. He suggested the third list to be released later this year might name even more people.

Too often, habitual drunks consume police time. If these people are inebriated in public, officers might stand by for hours at hospitals to ensure they're not unruly until doctors OK detoxification commitments.

Janesville police were wise to carefully word the list so it doesn't clash with First Amendment rights that allow people to associate with anyone they want. The list doesn't ban these people from bars or liquor stores. Instead, it just asks employees not to serve or sell to these people. The local and statewide tavern leagues support the program because it won't punish a bartender who unwittingly serves someone on the list.

As The Gazette reported last year, Police Chief Dave Moore credited officer Joe McNally with suggesting the “do not serve” list, then researching and pitching the idea. The program isn't unique. Madison and Green Bay have similar programs, and news reports suggest Milwaukee might start one.

Still, it's among initiatives that Janesville police have enacted in recent years to publicize troublemakers. As Schultz recapped, digital billboards show massive mug shots of people wanted by police. The Project Sober Streets website pinpoints homes of residents with five or more drunken driving convictions. Police use the app Nixle to tweet and email breaking news and notices of “wanted” suspects. Janesville police also pushed the state to improve mapping so residents know when sex offenders live in their neighborhoods.

These initiatives deserve applause. They're part of a nationwide trend toward policing that doesn't just respond to calls but probes the root causes of problems. That the Janesville Police Department is staying on top of this trend by implementing these programs shows our tax dollars for law enforcement are being used effectively.

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