Lafayette’s ‘Artmosphere’ meets food sale hurdle to hold on to liquor license _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Customers congregate in the bar area of Artmosphere in February in Lafayette.

A community coalition focusing on substance abuse is laying the groundwork for a push to change local law to keep anyone under the age of 21 out of bars in Lafayette.

The Knowledge Effect coalition on Thursday discussed its findings on links between drinking and crime that found youths ages 18, 19 and 20 were responsible for 27 percent of all offenses reported in and around Lafayette bars from January 2011 to May 2014 in incidents where the age of the offender was known.

“Maybe they should not even be in those locations to begin with,” said Rachel Godeaux, project coordinator for the coalition, which brings together business leaders, health care workers, court officials, law enforcement officers and others.

They also found that drivers under the age of 21 accounted for an average of 13 percent of annual DWI arrests in the city from 2006 to 2013.

Godeaux said she hopes the data will bolster arguments for a local law to keep those under 21 out of bars.

State law allows people 18 and older to enter some bars, even though they are not legally allowed to drink until age 21.

There is no current proposal to change local law on the issue.

“Right now, our focus is on generating community awareness,” Godeaux said. “Eventually, we would like to see a proposal before the council.”

Lafayette police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton said the data show a need to explore changing the law.

“The Knowledge Effect has gone through great lengths to obtain data as it pertains to those individuals under the age of 21,” Mouton said in an email. “It definitely supports raising the age requirements for patrons wishing to enter a bar within the city of Lafayette.”

A handful of cities in Louisiana have local laws setting a minimum age of 21 for entrance into bars.

City-Parish President Joey Durel and Police Chief Jim Craft both have talked of tougher age restrictions in recent years, but no proposal has been brought to the City-Parish Council.

Godeaux said the Knowledge Effect began last year reviewing data from the Louisiana Highway Safety Research Group and digging through 2,363 police reports from incidents at Lafayette bars from January 2011 to May 2014.

Besides underage issues, they also looked at where crimes occurred, finding that about 43 percent of all offenses reported at bars in the city were in the downtown area, which has the largest concentration of bars.

Of the 2,363 incidents, 57 percent were linked to alcohol use in some way and 12 percent were not. The role of alcohol was unclear in 31 percent of the incidents.

About 55 percent of the incidents occurred within a business and 45 percent outside of a business, they said.

Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.