COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Lee White, chief of police for Coeur d’Alene, said Tuesday that a recent surge in alcohol-related incidents in the downtown area is putting a strain on the police department’s resources, as reported by our news partner, the Coeur d'Alene Press.
“The majority of it is some things we’ve been experiencing the past couple of months,” White told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “The biggest issue we’re seeing is over-serving of alcohol, fights all over down there, and a whole slew of violent crimes.”
White made his comments to The Press shortly before giving a presentation to the City Council. In a joint effort with the Idaho State Police’s Alcohol Beverage Control team, White said the numbers have been steadfastly climbing in the new year, most notably during the first few weekends of February.
“Downtown changes dramatically after the 10 o’clock hour,” he told the City Council. “The dinner crowd goes home, and people show up downtown. I don’t think it’s largely people that have been down there all night. They’re a brand new crowd. Many of them show up already intoxicated. Then they go into the bars and continue to drink.”
The presentation included a gripping four-minute video of body cam footage from police officers responding to calls so far this year. The video begins with a muscular man in a bar getting belligerent with officers — complete with confrontations like, “Whatcha gonna do?” and “You can’t even be in here, dog” — while wearing a T-Shirt that reads, “ACTUALLY, FIGHTING DOES SOLVE EVERYTHING.”
White said four bars in particular — Mik’s, the Beacon, the Moose Lounge and the Iron Horse — were the most popular locations for calls so far this year. Those four establishments received 122 calls so far in 2021 through Feb. 9. White said those calls primarily occurred on Friday and Saturday nights.
For reference, the Coeur d’Alene Police Department fielded a total of 99 calls citywide all of Monday. The influx of calls, coupled with the nature of the calls themselves, is putting a heavy burden on a police force White says is already stretched thin.
“This is causing a significant drain on our staff,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people that want to work from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. on a cold winter night to deal with a bunch of drunks, especially those people who might have to come back to work the next morning at 6 a.m. Finding officers that want to come in on overtime to fill these shifts is a little problematic for us.”
That “bunch of drunks” are more drunk than usual. The average blood alcohol content for Cd’A PD’s DUI citations in January was .17, roughly twice the legal limit.
But White stressed that dealing with mere drunks is not what is putting officers in the most danger. Calls have turned violent, with White reporting that officers are now responding to reports of fights only to find themselves surrounded by antagonizing crowds. In the past year, Cd’A PD has responded to 16 sex crimes directly tied to those four bars — many allegedly occurring inside the establishments.
Some incidents have also been tied to gang activity. One call in mid-December referenced an encounter between armed men, one of whom admitted to the police he was affiliated with the Bloods. White said the phased re-opening of Washington state’s economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has either closed bars and nightclubs or significantly curtailed their capacity, sending many barhoppers and night crowds east to Coeur d’Alene.
It’s a problem White said the bars have been trying to solve.
“You have that many people that intoxicated, and some of which you have showing up intoxicated and itching for a fight, combined with a different type of crowd we’re seeing this year as opposed to years’ past,” he said. “I think what I'm trying to say is, the bars are trying to do their part, but the problem has gotten a little out of hand.”
White’s presentation was not an action item, so the council was prohibited from taking any action Tuesday night. But council members floated ideas during the council meeting to try to curtail the activity, ranging from holding the bars in question financially responsible to implementing a curfew. White and the council will circle back with possible solutions at the March 2 council meeting.
“I don’t see that this problem is going to correct itself anytime soon,” Councilwoman Kiki Miller said. “I’d love to see some more information and some more proposals come back to council before spring.”
Part of the solution might come with additional training. The Idaho State Police’s Alcohol Beverage Control team offers classes to bar staff to deal with unruly customers and recognize customers who are over-served. Mayor Steve Widmyer suggested additional training might help curtail the problem.
“It’s council’s energy that they want to do something,” Widmyer said. “This situation is not sustainable. We, as a council, as well, want to work with the bar owners to get their help in solving this problem.”
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.