Earlier closing time to take effect next year

Underscored by an early morning homicide outside a bar on Thanksgiving Day, North Charleston City Council's move to curb late-night crime with a new law that requires all bars and nightclubs to close at 2 a.m. passed quickly Thursday on a 7-2 vote.

This year's holiday revelers don't have to worry. The ordinance won't take effect until Jan. 2.

It will require bars to shut down between 2 and 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday sales already are regulated by state law.

The measure received broad support among City Council members, including Mayor Keith Summey, who traditionally has opposed government intrusion into private business practices.

"It's something that is a public safety issue for the community," he said.

Councilman Kurt Taylor also voiced support. "When my police chief tells me it has become a problem for my city, I don't have a choice but to agree to the restrictions," he said.

Councilmen Bobby Jameson and Michael Brown disagreed with the new ordinance.

"I don't think it is fair to our business owners who comply with the law to be penalized for those who are not complying with the law," Jameson said.

Brown thought the measure went too far. "There's been a lot of homicides not at bars," he said. "I think we could use another tactic."

Summey said the city can't choose which bars can stay open and which ones must close.

"If we require one to close at 2 a.m., then we need to require them all to close at 2 a.m.," he said.

The measure came in response to Police Chief Jon Zumalt's attempt to stop some of the crime occurring in a city of more than 87,000 people that one study recently dubbed seventh-most-dangerous in the nation because of its level of violent crime in 2006, when there were 29 homicide, 544 robberies and 1,331 burglaries.

Two of those killings occurred last year at bars, where police fielded 433 calls related to drinking establishments. Bars also were the scene of one rape, 40 aggravated assaults, nine robberies, eight burglaries, 17 stolen vehicles and 22 drug arrests, among other crimes.

Forty-five percent of violent crimes in the city occurred at bars after 2 a.m. last year.

Through September of this year, the rate was 55 percent.

Before the Thanksgiving killing at Club 843 near Dorchester and Cross County roads at 3:30 a.m., there have been two rapes, 29 aggravated assaults, 11 robberies, five burglaries, 15 stolen vehicles and nine drug arrests among 343 calls to bars this year through September, according to police records.

Many local governments in the Lowcountry require bars to close at 2 a.m., but North Charleston allows them to stay open later. The city has a law on the books dating back to the 1970s that requires bars to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m., but bars can remain open longer for people to dance and hang out.

The police chief says he thinks that allows people from neighboring cities such as Charleston, which requires bars to close at 2 a.m., to come to North Charleston and continue partying because he doesn't have the manpower to enforce after-hours alcohol sales.