Bar association tightens rules
NATCHEZ — While the closing time may be the same, area residents visiting any of the bars in Natchez may soon notice some changes to their bar-hopping experience.
Due to a number of fights and disturbances at Natchez bars, city leaders originally planned to make an ordinance that would require all bars in Natchez close at 2 a.m.
However, the city discovered it doesn’t legally have the power to restrict hours, so a new plan was formed.
Approximately 10 area bar owners who created the Natchez Bar Owners Association met Monday with Mayor Jake Middleton and several Natchez aldermen.
Club Paradise owner and operator W.C. Curtis spoke on behalf of the bar owner’s association and outlined some of the group’s plans to help solve the problem.
“We are here to address the unacceptable behavior we have been having at our bars,” he said. “We had some really good meetings with each other, and we were able to discuss and agree on some protective measures to create a safe environment for all those in our establishments.”
Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said one thing people do not realize about altercations in bars is that officers have to witness the fight to make an arrest.
“We cannot make an arrest for a misdemeanor crime unless it happens in our presence,” he said.
Mullins said because of this, bar owners must to file a report with the city and follow up on it to get a conviction.
After a report is filed, Mullins said bar owners need to go to the police station during the following week and sign an affidavit for the charge.
After that, the affidavit goes to the judge, where he can either sign off on it and allow officers to make an arrest or not sign it due to lack of evidence, Mullins said.
“We can arrest the guy after the warrant is signed by the judge,” he said. “We need you as the bar owner to follow up. The court has allowed you a way to punish these people, and you need to take advantage.”
Curtis said the association’s members have already spoken and they intend on prosecuting offenders to help deter future problems.
Curtis said the association also plans to start banning troublemakers from bars. Curtis said the length of the ban from the club would be determined based on the severity of the incident.
“If someone just pushes or shoves someone and that is it, then they will be banned from the club for that night,” he said.
Curtis said in addition to being banned from the club the offender was in, the troublemaker would also be banned from going into any other bar in the area that night.
“We have created a contact list with each other, and we will be letting the other bar owners know not to let this person in,” he said.
For more serious altercations, Curtis said a longer ban would be issued.
“For their first offense they are not allowed back for three months,” he said. “For their second offense, they are banned forever.”
Curtis said incidents such as serious fights or doing something that makes other people in the bar fearful would constitute the heavier ban.
Mullins said banning people from the bar is the best thing an owner can do to let people know they are serious about avoiding problems.
“You have a right to control you bar,” he said. “Identify the people that cause the problems, charge them, and don’t let them in. It will start to deter people from making that mistake, because they want to go out.”
Curtis said the bars located in downtown Natchez have agreed to share the cost of hiring an off-duty policeman to walk the streets near the bars.
“We would need the officers to work from midnight until we close,” he said. “Those are our best hours where we make the most money.”
Mullins said the officers can wear their police uniform and use their police gear, but the city will not be liable for anything they do while they are patrolling the streets outside the bars on their own time.
Dimples owner Darrell Cox said an officer monitoring outside will be a great help for him.
“We just need someone to watch the outside, because I got the inside under control,” he said. “Cars are broken into, litter is thrown around and bad things happen outside, and with an officer in uniform on duty that will help stop a lot of that.”
Alderman James “Ricky” Gray applauded the efforts of the association for their work coming up with solutions, but said he is still worried about two main problems with the Natchez bar scene — weapons and underage drinking.
Curtis said to deter the weapons problems some bars will check for weapons on people before they enter, using metal detectors and searches of purses and bags.
Anyone who does not agree to the search can be banned from entering the club, Curtis said.
Underage drinking at bars is being controlled by wristbands or hand stamps that show whether or not a person is of legal age to drink, and Cox said bar owners are very diligent in making sure no one under age is allowed to drink.
“We tell them you can come in, but you can’t have fun,” he said. “Anyone underage who drinks or anyone who buys a drink for someone underage will both be kicked out of the bar.”
Curtis said the bar owners association also wants to help keep the city clean.
“Each bar is responsible for cleaning up around their establishment after closing,” Curtis said. “We don’t want our neighbors trash all over our streets.”
Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she was pleased with the association’s focus on safety.
“Safety is the most important part of the whole thing,” she said. “People are going to be able to come into the city, have a good time and not have to worry.”
Mathis also said she was impressed with the way everyone came together to help make Natchez a safer place.
“Everyone coming together to share this no-tolerance stance is important,” she said. “We want people to enjoy themselves, but we want them to be safe.”