BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — Law enforcement officials hope their initial success at quelling alcohol-fueled Union Street disturbances can be emulated elsewhere downtown.
A string of assaults and other drunken disturbances last summer prompted police and bar owners from Union Street Station, Dillinger's Pub, and Bootleggers to improve lighting, staffing, and communication.
Participants claimed success after things calmed down by winter, but critics alleged the relative calm likely had more to do with cold weather. The Traverse City Police Department, though, recently released a report that indicates their program is working.
"When it's cold ... people aren't staying outside to smoke so we needed to see if calls are down due to the cold or what we're doing," said Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner. "We needed a way to compare apples to apples."
Police compared activity during September, October, and November 2011 to the same three months in 2012, after they'd stepped up crime prevention efforts.
High priority police calls for assault, disorderly conduct, drunkenness and other troublesome behaviors dropped by about a third, their records show.
A key to the success so far: Bar employees are calling police sooner and more often, Heffner said. Owners of those bars previously worried that frequent calls to police might hurt them when their licenses came up for renewal. But all parties agreed that ejecting troublesome patrons did little more than push problems onto the street.
"They hesitated to be proactive, but the earlier you call us the better," Heffner said. "If we have to come 10 times but don't have one problem when we get there, that's a success."
The next step, proposed by Union Street Station and the owners of Bootleggers and Dillinger's, is a meeting with all the bar owners in and around the 100 Block of Union Street to discuss communication and other matters of mutual concern.
City officials would like to expand those meetings to include bar owners throughout the downtown before the start of the busy summer season, Heffner said.
Mayor Michael Estes praised city staff for not proposing broad new rules or ordinances to address the problem.
"When you can identify the problems, you can contact people directly to address it, and that's what we did," Estes said. "Now the incidents are going down.
"I'm not saying it will stay like that, but hopefully it will," he said.