Businesses address law enforcement concerns
While several agenda items were discussed at the March 4 meeting of the Gettysburg City Council, the majority of the evening was focused on law enforcement and how it impacts the community’s businesses.
The meeting room was full with members of the community on both sides of the issue. While some families were present to show support for law enforcement for keeping the community safe, representatives from the American Legion Club, Lucy’s Bar N Grill, and Liberty Lanes met to discuss concerns about how their businesses are negatively impacted by the presence of law enforcement.
The concerns stemmed from complaints in the local drinking establishments that police officers were frequently driving past the businesses, checking license plates, and between 30 and 40 stops have been made resulting in DUI arrests.
Police Chief Bill Wainman said there have been two DUI arrests made in Gettysburg during the past seven months.
While some bar patrons are leaving vehicles parked, and others are contacting law enforcement for rides, some of the businesses said that they feel the presence of law enforcement is hurting business and will have a negative impact on the entire community.
Kori Hague, manger of the Legion Club, said that in the month she has been in town she has seen a definite deficit in business. She added that people are not going to the local grocery stores or implement dealer because of the law enforcement in town. “I have been told many times by these people that ‘I’m not going to these places anymore because I can’t stop and have a drink afterward,’” she said. She suggested a city taxi service be considered.
The council responded that the police officers are already offering rides home.
Hague also described an incident in which the police chief entered the bar just after 2 a.m. which left some of the patrons upset and who no longer want to come to the establishment. She equated it to a raid and asked that a more “polite manner” be used when coming into the bar.
Chief Wainman explained that law enforcement was asked to do bar checks at the Legion by a member of their board. He also said that officer presence does more to deter crime than anything else he does, but he made it clear that his intent was not to hurt business, and thought he was helping.
It was also pointed out by council members that there is no need to be worried by the presence of law enforcement if you are acting within the law.
Overall, the council agreed that law enforcement was doing their job and it is not in the best interest of the safety of the community to ask them to “tone it down.”
“We’re being as proactive as we can,” said Mayor Bill Wuttke, referring to the police offering rides and trying to deter drinking and driving, and he told the group at the meeting that it was nice to see people there supporting both sides. He went on to say that it would be a different situation if a child got hurt by a drunk driver and people knew the city was “looking the other direction. We can’t,” he said.
Council member Peggy Lehman echoed that statement. “We cannot tell the cops that they cannot be driving around and doing their job. We will not do that.”
“I don’t think anyone is asking that,” said Ken Iversen, who is a member of the American Legion. He asked that the police try a more tactful approach when coming into the bar.
Chief Wainman agreed that they can work on that.
“We’ll do what we can,” said Wainman. “We don’t want those rumors out there. We are trying to help people.”
Lehman, who works as a nurse at the medical center, said, “I don’t mind them getting out there and stopping people from getting on the highway and driving home. I would rather see them bring someone in for a blood alcohol than bring a crash victim in; and I’ve seen it both ways.”
There were also concerns from the group about the local highway patrol and county sheriff’s office. The council explained that the city has no jurisdiction over those offices, and citizens should contact those offices directly with concerns.
Some other items discussed by the council included:
• work on the new police office located behind the hospital should be completed by the end of the month,
• work is being done to repair the charger and battery on the fire siren,
• monthly report from the economic development corporation,
• EMT testing will be held in Rapid City on May 4,
• the Gettysburg “battle” sign is to be repainted through the chamber and development corporation,
• mats in the youth center basement need to be rolled up and arrow holes in the sheetrock of the upstairs walls need to be addressed.
The meeting adjourned after a little more than an hour and a half. The council meets on the first Monday of the month in the City Finance Office.