Jacksonville Beach City Council updates alcohol ordinance

Business with 3 violations in 1 year could lose permit to sell after midnight

VIDEO: Jacksonville Beach has updated its alcohol ordinance to boost security at places that serve alcohol.

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Jacksonville Beach City Council approved a change to an ordinance Monday night that could revoke permits allowing a bar or restaurant to sell alcohol after midnight if the business has too many violations in one year.

The city updated the alcohol ordinance to boost security at establishments that serve alcohol.

The city said it has seen an increase in law enforcement costs associated with alcohol sales and intoxication after midnight. 

“The issue is with bars. You’re filling people full of alcohol, and it’s your responsibility to be a responsible vendor and take reasonable measures to keep bad things from happening inside your bar,” said Sgt. Larry Smith of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.

Businesses must now have a security emergency action plan approved by the Jacksonville Beach Police Department and Fire Marshal. And they have to put up security cameras.

“That’s immeasurable, having it on camera,” Smith said. “A lot of times... with people bar hopping, it’s hard to determine where they over consumed, but if we can catch them on camera leaving a certain bar staggering, you can pinpoint over service.”

Bars and restaurants in the city currently are required to get permits that allow them to serve alcohol until 2 a.m.

Another element of the changes approved Monday night focuses on laying out what happens if businesses violate the Jacksonville Beach code.

Going forward, there will be a three-strike policy.

Each violation will be taken to a special magistrate, who could temporarily suspend a businesses’ ability to serve alcohol after midnight for the first two violations and could revoke the after-hours permit for a year after a third violation.

Each violation could also mean a $500 fine.

It also means that it’s not just the business that can get in trouble now but also the building's owner, meaning owners will need to be more concerned about who they lease to.

“Any business could just change their name or any owner could wait until they got their privileges suspended, let them leave and bring in immediately a new person. There was no teeth or incentive for them to care what their tenant was doing,” City Councilman Phil Vogelsang said. “A year without anyone in your establishment able to sell alcohol? It’s a pretty significant punishment. So it’s going to keep everybody abiding by the code.”

Smith said the last thing officials want is for people to be discouraged from calling police because they're worried about getting a violation on their record. He said the goal is to properly handle any issues that arise. If that's done, a violation won't be issued.

“Say you have a fight in your bar and throw them out in the street to let us handle it. How do you handle those issues when they arise? You can’t stop it, but how do you respond to that bar fight? Turn off music? Turn on lights? Call police? Things of that nature,” Smith said.

The changes follow a series of disorderly and violent encounters involving restaurants that have permits to serve alcohol after midnight.

In 2018, 23-year-old Leon Bennett was shot and killed while leaving a bar in Jacksonville Beach. Soon after, a police officer was injured in a shooting outside of a Waffle House on Beach Boulevard. Several fights and sexual assaults were also reported in the same year. 

Restaurant and bar owners told News4Jax on Tuesday that they all own reputable businesses, so the new rules in the ordinance won't be an issue for them.

They said the changes could keep businesses that might cause problems from staying open -- or ever opening in the first place.