LAWRENCE - The city needs more bars and nightclubs like a drunk needs another drink, city officials say.
But more bars and clubs are what the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission served up in Lawrence recently, adding five liquor licenses to the city's quota and with them the potential for five more bars and clubs in a city that has trouble controlling the ones it already has.
Nightlife in Lawrence has earned a regional reputation for violence and lawlessness in recent years, prompting Mayor William Lantigua to establish a special four-member police patrol to watch over them on weekend nights.
Even with the added patrols, the city Licensing Board has its hands full. At its most recent meeting last month, the board considered complaints against five bars involving gunshots, a riot, assaults on police, underage drinking, loud music, intrusive lighting and an illegal swimming pool. The board suspended one bar's liquor license for three days and cut back the hours of another.
Those issues are not considered by the ABCC when it hands out liquor licenses for municipalities to distribute. Instead, the commission considers only a municipality's population. Last month, the ABCC increased the number of liquor licenses for nightclubs, bars, restaurants and social clubs in Lawrence from 78 to 83, based on the 6 percent population growth the city experienced since the 2000 Census, to 76,377 people.
Police Chief John Romero said the formula is faulty, especially for small, tightly packed cities like Lawrence.
"We have a lot of people in six square miles - that's problematic," Romero said. "The formula should be changed so not only population but the geographic size of the city, the density, should be factored in. Otherwise, we have the problem we have now. On every corner, you have a licensed alcohol establishment and if you have an incident in one location, it could spill over. I think we should have a lot less (liquor licenses), not more."