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Aldermen Pass Alcohol Ordinance Requiring Cameras, ID Scanners, Security

City Attorney Pope Mallette goes over some last minute tweaks before the Oxford Board of Aldermen approve the ordinance Tuesday night.
Photo by Alyssa Schnugg

By Alyssa Schnugg
Staff writer

After three months of discussion, public meetings, online petitions and emails flurrying back and forth, the Oxford Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday night to approve an ordinance that puts extra security requirements on restaurants serving alcohol.

The ordinance will eventually affect all city restaurants that serve alcohol; however, Alderman Janice Antonow, who made the motion to approve, added a clause that would require businesses in a four-block radius on the Square to comply within 30 days and allow restaurants outside of the downtown area to comply by Jan. 1, 2019.

Antonow did not give a reason as to why the different compliance deadlines during the meeting; however, Oxford Police Chief Joey East has spoken out at several public hearings that the downtown area is where more bars are located in a close proximity of each other which causes large crowds of people in a small area and that most of the arrests for alcohol-related offenses occur.

When the first reading of the ordinance came out, the Downtown District was defined as small area on the west side of the Square, including restaurants on the south side of Jackson Avenue East to South 10th Street then proceeding south to the north side of Van Buren Avenue then east along Van Buren Avenue to South Lamar Boulevard to include businesses on the north side of Van Buren.

During subsequent hearings, the boundaries for the ordinance where changed to include all of Oxford, as some downtown business owners claimed it created an unfair advantage for those restaurants and bars not included inside the district.

Antonow’s motion was seconded and approved unanimously by the board.

The Regulation and Safety of Patrons and Employees of Restaurants, Bars and Similar Businesses, Including Event Venues ordinance, once known as the Downtown District ordinance, requires all local restaurants serving alcohol to have security and evacuation plans in place; include adequate security guards who wear clothing that identifies them as such; have security cameras at all entry/exit doors. all open common areas, all entry/exit doors of bathroom/restrooms, all entry/exit doors and the common area of any other area or room where the public is granted access, and the use of ID scanners to check for fake ID cards.

Alderman Rick Addy said he checked the prices of cameras which average $300 to $1,000.

“The ones that cost $1,000 exceeds what we are asking owners to have,” he said. “The cameras that are about $350 to $400 should be fine. But they do not cost $10,000 to $20,000 as some have claimed.”

A group of downtown restaurants, through their attorney, have filed several objects to the ordinance claiming the equipment being required for cameras and ID scanners is an extra expense.

Last week, in an email sent to Mayor Tannehill and the Board of Aldermen, the ACLU claimed the ordinance is “government surveillance of private businesses” and could have “chilling effects on First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

East said as of Aug. 15, OPD has arrested people on more than 174 charges, with 82 happening on the Square. He said 95 percent of those arrests were alcohol-related.

“We have two assaults reported where two young ladies were sexually assaulted inside downtown businesses,” he said. “One had working cameras, the other’s were broke … At 1 a.m. today, a 19-year-old was taken to the hospital and is now in ICU due to alcohol poising that happened on the Square. A 19-year-old drinking, probably with a fake ID.”

East said a lot of statements made over the last three months by business owners and others objecting to the ordinance were “false and misleading.”

“I just hope we can now move forward and be partners is helping to keep this city safe,” he said. “If we don’t work together to establish this partnership it’s not going to work.”

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