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Clearwater Holding Off On Moving Up ‘Last Call’ For Beach Bars

liquor bottles at a bar
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Bars on Clearwater Beach have six months to try to lower the number of police calls to their businesses after 1 a.m.

The Clearwater City Council voted to wait six months before considering moving last call for alcohol sales at beach bars from 3 a.m. to 1 a.m. The move is something police officials have asked for following a number of alcohol-related calls after midnight on Clearwater Beach.

The Clearwater City Council took up a question last week: should beach bars stop serving alcohol at 1 a.m. as opposed to the current 3 a.m. last call?

Chief of Police Dan Slaughter pointed out that the number of fights that occur in Clearwater Beach is higher than the entire Third District, which consists of a large portion of the rest of the city.

“I’m concerned about the long-game here and what Clearwater Beach will look like in five to ten years if this alcohol atmosphere expands,” Slaughter told the city council at a Tuesday work session.

But on Thursday, council members voted to instead wait to see if a six month remediation plan will help the situation.

The vote was four-to-one, with council member Mark Bunker in opposition.

The plan puts beach bars on a six-month probation, where they will have to do such things as hire more security, train bartenders on alcohol serving limits, and other tactics.

These changes would apply to Clearwater Beach, Sand Key, and Island Estates. The change would impact a total of 13 bars in the area, and not apply to the mainland.

“I understand that sometimes it is difficult for everyone to coexist, but coexist we must,” said Mayor Frank Hibbard. “And the other thing that we have to do is, we have to protect the brand that is Clearwater Beach. It is a great brand, it is something we should be proud of, and we should all be working together to keep it safe.”

Slaughter said data from August 2017 to September 2020 shows that while calls for police dropped off after midnight in the city, they remained steady until 3 a.m. on Clearwater Beach, with many involving fights and other alcohol-related concerns.

The city will monitor if the remediation effort helps lower those numbers. If it does not, council member David Allbritton said that the city might pursue revoking alcohol licenses.

“I understand with COVID-19, our tourism industry is down and you need to make a living, but not at the expense of letting all these shenanigans go on,” council member Kathleen Beckman added.

In other actions, the Council voted to approve an agreement that will see the Clearwater Police Department join a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office initiative that pairs deputies with social workers on calls involving people facing mental crises. The Council voted on the proposal Thursday after discussing it at the Tuesday work session.

Leali Shalabi is a WUSF/ USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for the spring of 2021.
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