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IMPD: Liquor license laws limit local enforcement actions

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Despite more than 50 police calls in 2021, one bar’s license didn’t come up for review until the following year.

When the Marion County Alcoholic Beverage Board met in March of last year, Tiki Bob’s faced scrutiny. IMPD call logs show more than 50 calls to Tiki Bob’s the previous year.

Capt. Christopher Boomershine, who leads IMPD’s commercial crimes unit, said the numbers the bar ran up typify the pattern IMPD sees with downtown bars. He said a small number of bars tend to drive most of the calls police receive.

“Most of our bar owners are good managers, good owners, and good members of our community,” he said. “We find some bars don’t have good management.”

Although each county has an alcoholic beverage board, state law gives the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission sole authority to grant, renew or revoke liquor licenses. Local boards review each establishment’s license every two years. Boomershine said there is currently no way to call an emergency hearing in the meantime.

“We can appear (before the board) as a remonstrator,” he said, “but we are not a member of that board and we have no authority to deny or approve that liquor license. All we can do is speak against it.”

Moreover, the only agency that can bring a case to an administrative hearing is the Indiana State Excise Police. ISEP has a total of 10 officers assigned to a nine-county district that includes Marion County. Boomershine said Marion County alone has more than 1900 active liquor licenses.

Law enforcement officials including excise police are pushing for several changes in state law. Most prominently, they are asking lawmakers to allow emergency hearings in the event of a murder or a serious assault at a bar. Additionally, they want to be able to give bars that become a public nuisance a criminal citation rather than simply an administrative violation. They also want to prevent any person with a felony conviction from holding an alcohol permit.

The ATC turned down News 8’s request for an on-camera interview. In a statement, the ATC said state law requires it to follow a local board’s recommendations on whether or not to revoke a license unless the local board’s recommendations are clearly arbitrary or lack substantial evidence to support them.

That’s what happened in the case of Tiki Bob’s and nearby Taps and Dolls. The Marion County Alcoholic Beverage Board recommended Tiki Bob’s get a one-year extension of its license as long as it made substantial changes by September and that Taps and Dolls’ license should be revoked. The ATC followed both recommendations. Tiki Bob’s did not return News 8’s request for comment for this story but IMPD logs show half as many calls to the bar in 2022 as in 2021.

Boomershine said the ATC recently hired a new prosecutor who is looking into ways to intervene more quickly. Beginning in November, ISEP also detailed two of its officers full-time to working with Boomershine’s unit.