Block Island discovers minors drinking in bars, including Ballard’s
A police sting revealed that many bars on block island were prepared to serve alcohol to teenagers, adding new fuel to the fight against “out of control” drinking on the island.
“People have always come here and partied,” First Warden Andre Boudreau said at a Wednesday night meeting of New Shoreham City Council. “But it got out of control.”
The number of extremely intoxicated extra-urban visitors has become a major source of frustration on the island in recent weeks. Boudreau said he went to Old Harbor on the 4th of July and “half the shops on Water Street were closed because it was just drunks robbing the shop owners”.
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“It’s not the community, I don’t think, that any of us in this room want to promote or live in,” he said.
Many, but not all, resident complaints were about underage drinking. Over the past weekend, the New Shoreham Police Department conducted a ‘compliance check’ to find out if any bars were serving alcohol to minors, with the help of two teenage informants.
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On Saturday, an 18-year-old informant was dispatched to order drinks at seven bars. Six out of seven — Ballard’s Beach Club, the National Hotel, the Surf Hotel, the Beachead, Champlin’s and The Oar – did not request identification or proof of age, according to the incident report. The Harborside Inn was the only establishment that refused to serve the teenager.
On Sunday, the police repeated the experiment with a 19-year-old informant. Once again, Ballard’s and The Oar were not a hit. Four companies – Mahogany Shoals, The Harborside Inn, Champlin’s and National – would not serve the teenager.
The bars were chosen at random, according to the police report.
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“We are, of course, very embarrassed,” said Rita Draper, whose family has run The Oar for 25 years. She said the bar had never been cited for underage drinking at that time, “so we’re very horrified”.
Draper said The Oar immediately called a staff meeting to “review policies and strategies to address the issue, and not let it happen again.”
She said she wasn’t sure exactly what happened over the weekend, but she could see how an overworked server or bartender might “let their guard down.”
“It’s in no way excusable,” she added.
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Christopher Sereno, the owner of the National Hotel, said in an emailed statement that the issue was “something we take seriously”. A Surf Hotel representative said they would not comment at this time.
Other establishments that failed the compliance check did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Providence Journal.
However, Ballard released a statement to ABC6, saying they take the issue “very seriously and will work with the police department to ensure best practices are improved and implemented immediately.”
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Failing a compliance check is not a criminal offense and does not automatically result in a penalty. At Wednesday night’s council meeting, city officials debated how to respond to the police department’s findings.
James Callaghan, who provides the city’s legal counsel, said he understood the urge to “do something immediately and throw in the hammer”. However, holding “show cause” hearings immediately for the seven law societies that failed a compliance check would likely not be productive, he said.
Callaghan suggested that the council “rather provide a seat at the table [for bar owners] to show that they are doing something to solve these problems.”
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“You’ll get more in the long run,” he said, later adding, “If I was one of the owners of the establishments, I’d be sure to be warned.”
Councilor Keith Stover suggested a ‘community conversation’ with liquor licensees, ferry operators, volunteer rescue team, police and members of city council to discuss ‘what we can do to lower the temperature.
“I feel like people would be very willing to engage in that conversation,” he said, describing liquor licensees as “equally concerned about the current environment.”
Representatives from several of the bars that failed the compliance check were present at Wednesday’s council meeting and expressed support for the idea. The date has been set for Monday, July 25, at 3 p.m.
Wider Concerns About “Out of Control” Behavior
At Wednesday’s meeting, council members also expressed broader concerns about the amount of lawless and drunken behavior they are seeing on the island.
Boudreau said the Block Island Land Trust has been forced to hire more people to watch over its properties. Stover said that when he was biking on Water Street, he saw “people literally falling off the curbs.”
“Block Island has always been a party place, but let’s face it, it’s busier,” Boudreau said. “It’s a lot busier than it’s been. … It’s out of control.”
Some advisers suggested ads for local businesses that focus on alcohol and big shots of cocktails were contributing to the problem.
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Councilor Martha Ball said there were a few TV adverts in particular that concerned her and she couldn’t see why “anyone has to advertise alcohol to get people to come at Block Island.
Boudreau agreed, saying there was a “social contract” on the island and the city could ask companies to “dismiss” advertising that promotes Block Island as a place to drink.
He also argued that Block Island needed more police to better enforce liquor laws. “When budget season rolls around, we tend to forget about summer passions,” he said.
City Manager Maryanne Crawford said police plan to continue with compliance checks and the city is working with South County Prevention to get new signs reminding people of open container laws.
Interstate Navigation, which operates the Block Island Ferry, has agreed to add reminders about the island’s public consumption laws to its announcements, she said.