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Bar monopolizing police, chief says

A local watering hole that emptied nearly 200 people — many of whom reportedly broke into fights, blocked traffic or simply staggered around drunk — onto Bay Street at closing early Saturday morning is becoming an unacceptable drain on the city’s police force, according to Chief Al Townsend.

In what Townsend described as only the “pinnacle” in a growing problem, every Port Orchard police officer on duty late Friday night responded to the Harborside Bar and Grill several times, beginning when neighbors complained of loud music and ending when they had to disperse — with the help of eight county deputies and Washington State Patrol officers — a large, rowdy crowd of patrons still gathered near the club shortly before 2 a.m.

“My biggest problem is babysitting that place from 12:30 until 2 a.m., which are prime hours for problems anyway,” he said. “What we’ve been having to do every Friday and Saturday night is park every cop we have working on Bay Street and have them sit there until everyone leaves.”

Townsend said there were four arrests the morning of June 26 directly related to the incident outside the club as several fights broke out and at least one minor who claimed to have been drinking at the club was arrested for suspected drunken driving.

The following night, the problems continued, Townsend said, as his officers responded six times for various problems such as people urinating in the streets, a woman requiring medical assistance for apparent alcohol overdose and another neighbor calling 911 because of the noise level, which led to the owner being cited for violating the city’s noise ordinance.

Townsend said last weekend’s events were just the most recent of “the great deal of problems” his officers have had with the bar over the past couple of months since the new owners took over.

One officer who responded early Saturday morning wrote in his incident report that he and his fellow officers have received numerous complaints from nearby residents regarding noise and other problems and had administered several verbal warnings to the owners of the establishment.

“We have pleaded for their cooperation in controlling the noise and the patrons, (but) we have received little cooperation,” the officer wrote.

The officer also detailed several DUI arrests his department had made over the past few weeks of suspects who claimed to have been drinking at the Harborside, including one 23-year-old man who did not have any identification and two underage suspects who all claimed they were allowed to enter and drink in the club.

Harborside owner Scott Hlinka who, with his wife Crystal, took over the business March 1, denied any patrons had been allowed inside without proof of their age, and said he believed the arrested parties were mad at his staff for not allowing them inside and told police they had been drinking there as retaliation.

As for the crowd problems and other incidences, Hlinka characterized them as “growing pains” experienced by a relatively new business.

“We’re a young company, and we did not expect the size of crowds who have shown up and we were understaffed,” Hlinka said. “We’ve had no major fights and no major incidents of people breaking the law. Just a lot of people coming down to hear some live music and see their friends.”

Hlinka said he met with Townsend on Saturday to discuss the police department’s concerns, then prepared a letter detailing how he would address them.

Along with increasing the security staff from four to seven members to help disperse the crowds and stop them from congregating into large groups, Hlinka said he is now providing a smoother transition from his bar to the street.

“We’re going to have patrons leave through the courtyard, and will offer free water and coffee,” Hlinka said, explaining he believed this would provide a transition period that would help prevent some of the problems that occurred Friday night, which he said stemmed from having to “kick everybody out at 2 a.m. and releasing 200 people out onto the street.”

Hlinka said those changes were instituted the following night on Saturday, and “everything went really well.”

Hlinka said he will continue to evaluate the new policies and make changes as needed.

“We need to find out how we can keep both sides happy,” Hlinka said.

Townsend said he received Hlinka’s letter Monday and appreciated the prompt response, but said it did not fully address his concerns.

“We’ll need to sit down with him and work on the plan some more, and hopefully we can reach an agreement that works for both sides,” he said.

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