Despite the vast majority of public comment showing strong opposition to the proposed cutback of bar hours, the village council voted unanimously on May 12 to limit alcohol sales and consumption to an 11 p.m. closing time until June 15 for some establishments and until Sept. 6 for others. The cutback on hours begins May 16.
Class A1 (taverns without food service or with limited food service), A7 (brew pubs) and A8 (special event venues) liquor license holders must close at 11 p.m. through Labor Day, while Class A liquor license holders that derive at least half their gross sales from food can go back to regular amended hours of closing at 1 a.m. weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends on June 15.
The village council meeting was scheduled after an incident early Sunday morning on Madison Street in which a crowd of around 50 people allegedly refused police orders to disperse for at least half an hour, verbally and physically harassing police officers while and after they attempted to arrest a man for choking a woman. But issues, from local ordinance citations such as drinking on the sidewalk and noise violations to fights and refusal of crowds to disperse, have been a problem on Madison Street for the past few months.
During the meeting, which was filled to capacity both in person at village hall and on Zoom, where participation had been limited to 100, bar owners and employees from multiple establishments that would be affected spoke, raising their concerns about how the shortening of hours would impact businesses and jobs. Most expressed frustration that their businesses would suffer significantly from the limitation of hours and argued that the village would be using a blanket approach to solving problems created by a few bar operators.
Lynn Sorice, who along with husband Marty owns several bars in town, read a letter on behalf of the Sorices and several other bars, stating, “Any further restrictions of our operating hours are going to be fatal to our businesses and jobs.” She asked village elected officials and staff to meet with the bars.
“We have some ideas about all of this. Would you please work with us and talk to us, instead of just doing to us and blaming us?” Sorice implored the council.
Beacon Pub owner Scott Burns called it “draconian” to close all bars to solve problems allegedly stemming from just a few.
“This will be a death sentence to our businesses,” Chris Buckley read on behalf of his father who owns Mugsy’s.
Joe Sullivan, owner of Duffy’s, said a forced closure of 11 p.m. through Labor Day “would make continuing to operate Duffy’s impossible” because of the amount of revenue he and his staff would lose. “If passed, these restrictions would turn Duffy’s from a business into a hobby. Duffy’s isn’t a hobby – it’s the way I and my employees make a living,” said Sullivan.
Police Chief Tom Aftanas and Forest Park police officer Dan Miller presented the other side of the issue. Aftanas said that since the beginning of May, just 12 days, the department has already issued 22 local ordinance citations along Madison Street. Last year during COVID there were none, but in 2019 during the same time period there were only two, and in 2018 only one.
Looking at a longer period showed the same trend. Aftanas said in the two-month period of March and April, the department had issued 75 citations this year. In 2020, they issued three. In 2019, they issued 15. And in 2018 they issued only seven.
These violations, Aftanas said, were for offenses like selling alcohol after closing time, fighting, disorderly conduct, excessive noise, open alcohol and public urination.
“But the most disturbing thing is the number of guns that we’ve been taking off the street lately,” said Aftanas. “And many of the offenders are self admittedly coming from some of the bars on Madison, and it’s unknown if those guns are ending up in the bars at certain times.”
Just that morning around 12:50 a.m., Aftanas said, Forest Park officers conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle that was double parked and picking up people from one of the bars. Officers found a fully loaded handgun and a second fully loaded magazine. The suspect, said Aftanas, told police he was going to bring the gun into the bar but at the last second decided to leave it in the car.
“I hope you realize that we’re doing this [passage of the amended bar hours] or considering this just for public safety as well as officer safety. That’s our first priority,” said Aftanas.
Officer Dan Miller, president of the Fraternal of Police lodge, expressed the frustrations and dangers local police feel they face. The FOP, he said, has always supported the bars, even coming out publicly in support of video gaming when that issue was at the center of Forest Park decision-making.
“Unfortunately, the officer safety issue trumps all that,” Miller said. “We can’t have any more of this while we take care of you, when we are getting attacked in the street, and it has to stop now.”
Miller said for him the incident early Sunday morning was the “final straw.”
“I watched the body camera footage of officers having their guns pulled on while trying to separate a domestic offender … You can’t grab an officer’s gun, because what’s going to happen is there’s going to be an officer who sees that and is going to shoot that person dead in Madison Street.”
Prior to voting on the proposed amended hours, all the commissioners expressed the difficulty they had making a decision about the issue.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes commented that he wants to propose a letter going out to all liquor license holders inviting them to a general meeting to sit down and start discussing the issues to find a solution. That might include adding an entertainment license, which would be necessary if an establishment wanted to bring a DJ into the bar, for example. He mentioned that the village is looking into an outdoor camera system for Madison Street to make it clearer from which establishments trouble was coming.
Commissioner Ryan Nero agreed with having a discussion with the businesses, but he also said that the bottom line is that the responsibility to prevent the problems that have been seen on Madison Street falls at the feet of the bar owners.
“You’re the ones running the businesses,” Nero said. “What corrective measures have you implemented? We’re in this position because nothing’s really been done on the part of the ownerships of these businesses.” He rejected the notion that the problem is solely related to pop-up parties in event spaces, as suggested by some bar owners during the evening.
“These folks are going into establishments, and they’re drinking, and they’re disrespecting you, me, the residents and these fine officers that are sitting in this room today,” Nero said. “And that, fellow residents and business owners, is a disgrace.” He added, “I could not be the commissioner that didn’t support something being done tonight, while we sit down and take a look at the options that [the bar owners] present to us.”
Commissioner Jessica Voogd shared Nero’s sentiments. “I can’t in good conscience do nothing, and we find out that somebody gets seriously injured or killed,” Voogd said. She said cutting back the bar hours isn’t the solution to the problems on Madison Street, but it’s a chance to “reset, breathe, and come together with a solution.” Otherwise, she said, in September when bars can once again stay open later, the problems will start up once more.
Commissioner Dan Novak thanked the police and village staff for their hard work. “We have to continue to communicate, continue to listen to our business owners, listen to our residents and do what is best for Forest Park,” Novak said.
Nero also suggested that while limiting bar hours now would be difficult for current bar owners, failure to do so would cause such problems that ultimately no business owners would want to invest in the town, an idea shared also by Director of Building, Planning and Zoning Steve Glinke. Glinke told the Review on May 13 that as the primary contact for prospective business owners in town, he’s been having increasing trouble filling spaces on Madison Street.
“More than a few people call me and express interest, but then they hear rumors or come at night to see the street and they change their minds,” Glinke said, adding that he had two people interested in the space previously occupied by The Heritage, 7403 Madison St. After they visited Madison Street at night, Glinke said, one said there was no way they would open there and another simply didn’t call back again.
“There are so many contributory factors to the current state of Madison Street,” Glinke said. “What should be beyond question is we need to do something.”
Before adjourning, Mayor Rory Hoskins said, “We are absolutely concerned about protecting our business district and the desirability of Forest Park as a place to live, work and do business … We will send out a communication to all liquor license holders inviting them to begin some very serious dialogue on how we can improve safety measures and we are going to thoroughly explore camera options [on Madison Street].”
FOP chief says recruiting cops to FP getting harder
Dan Miller, a Forest Park officer and president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said recruiting police to work in Forest Park has become increasingly challenging. Bound by non-home-rule restrictions, the department must maintain an eligibility list of potential officers. But it’s been harder to get the interest of potential officers.
“[In Forest Park] you have a police department that is getting younger by the day, because people do not want to be police anymore,” Miller said. “We can’t get applications … They don’t even want to come for an interview anymore.” Home-rule villages like Aurora and Gurnee, Miller said, are offering bonuses to come or salaries with which Forest Park cannot compete.
Without support, Miller said, the Forest Park Police Department is in trouble. “I promise you, you’re gonna lose these young [officers],” said Miller. “They will leave you. And you’re going to be stuck with a police department with spots you can’t even fill.”
He blamed the state for issues with policing too, calling out Cook County and specifically State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for making it too easy for criminals to feel like they can repeatedly break the law with little to no consequence, the reason, he said, that issuing more tickets isn’t going to fix the problem in Forest Park.
“They don’t care about tickets. They don’t care about getting arrested,” said Miller of criminals. “If you come to Cook County, nothing is going to happen to you. You’re going to get arrested, you’re going to get a court date, and the state’s attorney’s office and Kim Foxx are going to let you go, and you’re going to do it over. They tell us go ahead and arrest me. I have $100 in my pocket.”