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Recent violence could prompt harsher penalties for Charleston businesses

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Downtown Charleston businesses that violate potential new protocols in the city’s late-night establishment ordinance could be forced to close earlier.

These streets were packed with bar-goers this past Saturday, and city leaders say those crowds are ultimately in the hands of the bars they patronize. That’s why city leaders hope possible amendments to the late-night ordinance will further hold those establishments accountable and help keep criminals off the streets.

“It’s just ridiculous that repeat violent offenders continue to be out on the streets carrying illegal guns,” Mayor John Tecklenburg said.

In response to Saturday’s shooting on King Street that injured five people, Tecklenburg says he is tired of seeing people in his city resort to violence.

The current discipline process requires four violations before a business would face a year-long suspension. To prevent further crimes, however, members from the license and public safety committees are trimming that disciplinary process to just three steps, meaning it would take one less violation for a business to face a year-long suspension.

“It’s a privilege, not a right, to sell alcohol in the city of Charleston after midnight,” Tecklenburg said. “From 12 to two, you get a special permit. So, we are modifying our ordinance to add some more accountability and teeth to that that if we get a bad act, or so to speak, an establishment that’s not following all the rules as they should, that we can more easily take that privilege away from them and close them down after midnight.”

A business’s first offense results in a mandatory meeting with staff. A second violation will result in a 90-day suspension from the ordinance. A third offense will result in a one-year suspension.

District 9 Councilmember Peter Shahid says safety needs to be a priority.

“The idea here is not to create a punishment, it’s to create adherence to the spirit and to the intent of the ordinance,” Shahid said. “On the flip side of this, are we trying to get them to comply or are we trying to get them to stop? Because we’re talking about safety issues here.”

Police Chief Luther Reynolds says these amendment decisions were made based on comments from the businesses and committee members. He says 98% of businesses have put in great effort in following the rules, but others have violated occupancy guidelines and are attracting underage drinkers and gang members.

“To hold those accountable who don’t really care about anybody but themselves,” Reynolds said. “And they’re creating problems and it’s contributing to an environment down there that we want to change, and we will and we are going to continue to work to make sure that we have better outcomes.”

Tecklenburg says these amendments will go to city council next Tuesday and then require a second and third reading before they can become law.

Reynolds says the city will not be naming any specific establishments right now that are violating the ordinance, but they will be holding them accountable.

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