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South Side puts together a task force to combat growing nuisance bars


October 3, 2006

South Side has a Nuisance Bar Task Force and the South Side Community Council believes all residents and business owners of the community should be aware of the group.

That is one of the reasons this was the topic at the most recent Community Council meeting at the Brashear Center at 2005 Sarah Street September 25.

A standing-room-only audience of more than 120 residents crowded into the social room to listen to what various speakers had to say about what is being done to combat the problem that can really make it difficult for residents, particularly late at night.

The Task Force is a joint effort with the cooperation of Pittsburgh departments including: Police, Fire and Building Inspection, the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, Allegheny County Health Department, PA Liquor Control Board among others to work together in getting rid of nuisance bar establishments that cause problems in the neighborhoods.

Various SSCC board members gave presentations at the meeting, facilitated by Bruce Krane who emphasized to the packed audience that the board members were not there to listen to complaints about specific anecdotal evidence of the problem.

“This is not community complaint night,” emphasized Mr. Krane. “We're also not here to attack the bar industry.”

Mr. Krane said that the SSCC committee did extensive research on what can be done to combat nuisance bars and found that this is a very complicated issue.

“The laws [for shutting down a bar] are complicated and do not favor the residents,” Mr. Krane said.

According to a complaint form that was circulated at the meeting, a nuisance bar is defined as a place where activity in and around the establishment is deemed harmful to the surrounding neighborhood.

Some of the things deemed to be a nuisance are prostitution, alcohol sales to minors and ongoing drug sales with the knowledge of the bar owner or employees.

Nuisance bars may also consist of noise, loitering crowds, lewd behavior, disorderly conduct, garbage, street crimes and harassment.

By reporting these activities to the police and other related agencies, this may help in the necessary action to rid the neighborhood of the nuisance bar.

Mr. Krane emphasized that investigations into nuisance bar activity may take a long period of time.

A citizen's report can begin or further the investigation of the liquor establishment and its illegal activity, according to the Task Force. The Nuisance Bar hot line is 412-327-7777. Residents may also contact the Narcotics/Vice Office during regular working hours on weekdays (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) by calling 412-323-7761.

If anyone is afraid to call for fear of retaliation, Mr. Krane emphasized that they do not have to identify theyselves to the authorities. To insure anonymity, he said this can be done by calling through an untraceable cell phone.

If a person does not have access to a cell phone, he suggested a person with a complaint to report contact one of the people on the Task Force such as himself.

“I'm not afraid to call. I'm not one to keep my mouth shut when I see a problem that exists,” said Mr. Krane, noting that a log should be kept of every complaint that is made to the police and other authorities.

It was shown at the meeting that while there are fewer liquor licenses in the City of Pittsburgh than there were 10 years ago, there are a lot more in Zone 3 (the South Side and surrounding areas) than there were in 1996, going up from 119 to 200.

According to the Task Force, Pennsylvania state law notes that there are not “bars” per se in the state. The state Liquor Control Board issues licenses to restaurants.

A lawyer who specializes in this area of liquor laws noted that he has never seen anyone turned down for a liquor license when applied for in Pennsylvania, calling it a “rubber-stamp” process.

“The only thing that can prevent you from getting a liquor license is being a convicted felon,” noted Mr. Krane.

Mr. Krane also emphasized that the LCB itself only manages licenses; it does not enforce the law. There is a branch of the LCB designed for enforcement that is difficult to maneuver through. To complain about a nuisance bar through the LCB, the complainer must be identified. However, it was suggested by Mr. Krane that there is strength in numbers and for anyone on a campaign to get rid of a bar through the LCB, he suggests doing it by joining other people against the problem drinking establishment.

The nuisance bar complaint form that was circulated at the meeting will make its way to the City's Department of Public Safety. Residents may also call 911 with any complaints about illegal activity coming from a bar.

The form emphasizes to use as much detail as possible, noting that the information provided on the form will be kept strictly confidential. However, if a person would like to be contacted by a nuisance bar detective, they should provide a name and telephone number or email address.

While the Task Force emphasized that there are many obstacles to overcome in getting a business labeled as a nuisance bar, this should not discourage citizens from acting against them.

By doing this on a continuous basis, local and state laws may eventually be changed, which may make it easier to combat this problem.

By being vigilant, “This is what ultimately impacts laws at the state level,” Mr. Krane said.


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