If banning single-serve beer and alcohol sales will help eliminate downtown panhandlers -- and the urination and litter that comes with them -- the Joliet City Council is ready to give it a try.
The ordinance, approved Monday with a 7-0 vote, was proposed by the Joliet Police Department as a way to make it more difficult for people to beg for money and then purchase/consume alcohol downtown. It's one of the problems often cited by people who say they don't like coming downtown to eat, drink or attend a show.
"We have a public perception problem," said police Sgt. Thomas Grutzius, who noted that Diocese of Joliet Bishop R. Daniel Conlon was accosted twice by panhandlers when he was downtown for a recent meeting.
The new rules, which kick in in mid-November, will prevent all sales of mini-bottles of liquor that are sold as single servings. However, they will remain legal if they're packaged by the manufacturer in groupings of four or more.
All single-serving containers of beer that are 24 ounces or less will also be banned. In the downtown downtown area districts, the ban is 40 ounces or less.
So that craft beer, which is often sold in single serving bottles, will not be affected, shoppers will be able to buy them warm and in six-pack containers that can be mixed and matched.
The goal is to limit the average consumer but to attack the sources of alcohol most favored by panhandlers, who otherwise cannot be punished without clogging up the jail or imposing fines that will never be collected, Grutzius said.
"We have issued numerous tickets to these (panhandlers) but they crumple them up, sometimes to our face. There's no teeth in (the law)," he said. "We're not talking about bottles of wine. We're talking about the quick hits, the 40-ouncers, the 24-ouncers."
If you "cut the head off the snake" by eliminating the source of the alcohol most favored by those who loiter downtown, you might just kill the problem, he said.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean the panhandlers will leave Joliet, Grutzius acknowledged. They may move to other neighborhoods or find ways to get around the new ordinance, perhaps by collecting money for longer periods of time to buy a pint or half pint, for example, or pooling money to purchase six-packs of beer.
There is also the question of a level playing field for liquor store owners. The panhandlers might still beg downtown but may walk to areas outside of the downtown or Cass TIF district to buy alcohol, thereby penalyzing store owners whose businesses are in those areas.
For those reasons, District 1 Councilman Larry Hug and District 5 Councilman Terry Morris pushed for a citywide ban on the sale of single-serve beer that was 40 ounces or less. Their effort to table the ordinance so that it could be rewritten to include an overall ban was rejected by the council majority.
In the end, Morris voted for the ordinance as written and Hug opted to vote "present" because he didn't want to vote down the other provisions included in the measure.
Among those provisions was the elimination of a Class I liquor license, meaning that bars east of Raynor Avenue will no longer have to have a kitchen in order to serve alcohol and will pay $200 less for a liquor license, the same as bars in other parts of Joliet.
The new rules also allow the police to issue tickets to minors found in hotel rooms where liquor is present. That should help reduce the problems that come when 21 years old or older rents a hotel room, buys alcohol and then invites underage drinkers to drink with them, Grutzius said.