Authorities are planning an exit strategy for the special police detail that keeps tabs on Lafayette’s bar scenes on weekends, citing a need for creative funding solutions to cover a cost that’s ballooned in the decade since the detail’s inception.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft told a council liaison committee Monday that he wants to see the detail phased out by the end of 2016. He said he intends to have a new plan by January for policing the bars on Jefferson, McKinley and Simcoe streets, with hopes to work with bar owners on a funding solution.
“If we are going to have a law enforcement presence down there, it’s got to be through spending that both sides can work with,” Craft said.
District 4 Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux has long advocated for a shift in funding and spoke at the Monday meeting in support of finding funding alternatives for the detail, as did District 2 Councilman Jay Castille.
The council last year slashed the weekend detail’s funding in half to $245,000 to help fund a police pay raise plan. Before that cut, about 20 officers each night worked the weekend detail shifts.
“That’s really ridiculous that you have to have that much,” Craft said.
About $302,500 is budgeted toward the detail in the coming fiscal year.
Ten years ago, the detail began on Jefferson Street with two officers on bicycles for about $105,000. At the time, some officers were receiving cash payment to provide off-duty security at bars and clubs — a practice no longer allowed in Lafayette except for approved, one-time events.
Beyond that and up until last June, officers were drafted each week to work overtime hours to police the crowds.
Craft said now only officers who volunteer work the detail, and although he did not elaborate, he said he envisions staffing future security measures with “a different type of policing with less manpower.”
Funding the police presence at Lafayette’s bar scenes has long been a problem.
The city in 2009 imposed a security fee on bar owners to share in the expense. But the formula based fees on capacity, which led to large bar owners footing a majority of the bill — whether or not their venue filled to capacity — while smaller bars benefited from the extra police presence, Craft said.
As costs increased, however — to nearly $470,000 in 2010 and to about $485,000 in 2011 — some bar owners balked and quit paying the bill. They filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 alleging the fees were an unconstitutional tax.
Attorneys representing the five bars in the lawsuit have until Oct. 19 to decide whether they want to move forward in the dormant case.
Some of those bars have since closed, but their contested security bills are still open with the city.
“The city is still paying for it,” Craft said.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.