Beer ban

Arlington Heights Officer Robert Kostka, left, puts empty alcohol containers into a trash bag held by intern Georgi Michev at an abandoned building near Northwest Highway and New Wilke Road. (Tribune photo by Stacey Wescott / September 28, 2009)

Arlington Heights officials are expected to decide next week whether to pursue steps to curb public drunkenness which could potentially cost liquor store retailers millions of dollars in lost sales.

Under consideration is a ban on sales of individual large cans of beer and similar single servings of alcoholic beverages at grocery and liquor stores.

Advocating for the ban are police, who say it would help address disorderly conduct, including fighting, theft and public urination -- especially in the village's downtown and near its two train stations.

Many of those creating the problems are homeless, police said, who are able to scrape together the $2 or so it takes to buy a single 24-ounce can of the ice-style beer, which has a higher alcohol content than conventional beer.

But a dozen liquor retailers told trustees at a meeting last month that the proposed ban would hurt their bottom line and they are proposing alternatives. Officials are expected to consider whether to pursue the ban on Monday.

"We are trying to balance public safety and economic interests," Village Manager Bill Dixon said. "Public safety should prevail."

Authorities in other towns with similar liquor sales restrictions say that they work, but that a ban is not a catch-all.

Evanston has had a similar ban in place for years. "It's effective to a degree," said Evanston police Cmdr. Tom Guenther. "People can still get liquor."

Mount Prospect prohibits sales of refrigerated or chilled alcoholic beverages in containers smaller than 750 milliliters, about 25 ounces. "Since the ordinance was passed, we haven't had any violations or any complaints," said Officer Bill Roscop.

Chicago also restricts sales of single servings of alcohol, but allows sales of beer in single containers larger than 16 ounces.

The proposed ban in Arlington Heights includes sales of single containers of beer unless they are 40 fluid ounces or more, single containers of wine unless greater than 12 ounces or 375 milliliters, and other containers of alcohol except in containers greater than 16 ounces.

"We look at this as a comprehensive approach to a rather severe social problem we've had here in the village," Police Capt. Richard Niedrich said.

But Connie Karavidas, a co-owner of two Teddy's Liquors stores in Arlington Heights , said retailers are meeting with village staff in hopes of convincing them there are workable alternatives to a complete ban. Some options on the table include self-policing by retailers and increased crackdown on littering and public drunkenness.

"Two million dollars in sales stands to be lost," Karavidas said.

One of the ideas retailers have pitched was to go after the drinker rather than the drink as happens in Green Bay, Wis. Wisconsin law allows identification of problem drinkers as "known habitual drunkards," according to Kail Decker, assistant city attorney and city prosecutor for Green Bay.

Green Bay's police department has established a "no serve list" of such people based on a 3-strike rule. Those involved in three disturbances involving alcohol land on the list. Retailers keep the names of those on the "no serve list" in a binder behind the counter, Decker said.

Arlington Heights Assistant Village Attorney Robin Ward said Illinois has no such law, so she isn't sure whether the approach would work.

Decker thinks the Green Bay system helps cut down on problems.

"It helps. It's one more roadblock," Decker said, but admits "there are much greater social issues that need to be attacked."

Exactly the point, say those trying to help the homeless with alcohol abuse problems. Todd Stull, clinical director for Palatine-based Journeys from PADS to HOPE, wrote a letter to Arlington Heights trustees in support of the ban.

"It will cut easy access to alcohol for those homeless clients who abuse alcohol, giving Journeys a larger and more effective window of opportunity to intervene with these clients," Stull wrote.