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Are Auburn bars dangerous?

Owners, law enforcement say problems can arise
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Kimbuck Williams says he knows his bar has had a bad reputation - but that doesn’t hold true today. “I think one of the main misconceptions is that you wouldn’t ever bring a date here,” Williams said. “Some people think it’s just an old redneck fight bar.” Williams owns the California Club in Old Town Auburn and said he’s hoping some renovations a few years ago, and the drive to have more live music, will prove his bar is a safe place for a good time. With a recent violent bar fight leaving one Auburn woman with a year’s worth of reconstructive surgery ahead of her, Auburn bar owners and law enforcement officials acknowledge that it’s no surprise that problems arise when alcohol is in the mix. However, whether or not local bars are unsafe for their patrons is something both sides say is a matter of having effective security and making the right judgment call. “Common sense is a must,” said Valerie Harris, Auburn police chief. Harris said responding to calls from bars is a “demand” on officers. Last year, officers responded to a total of 256 calls in 2008 encompassing businesses in the Downtown and Old Town Auburn areas. The specific areas included the 1500 block of Lincoln Way, the 100 block of Cleveland Avenue, the 830 block of Lincoln Way, and the intersection of Lincoln Way and Cherry Street. Harris said the calls encompassing the area surrouding Cherry Street to the Clock Tower were disproprtionatly higher than those in the Old Town Auburn area. The activity calls were for a variety of reasons including public intoxication reports, suspicious circumstances or vehicles, traffic stops, physical fights, complaints, calls initiated from bars, police initiated walk-throughs, other assists such as medical aid, response to 911 calls, assault and battery calls, and theft reports, Harris said. “Our goal would be of course not to respond or have any residual effect from anyone consuming alcohol, however, that’s not the case today,” Harris said. Bob and Betty’s 160 Club owner Claudia Cheeseman said she feels her bar is a safe place that includes many patrons whom she considers family. She said some recent incidents have left the bar with a bad reputation. Last year, Michael Lane allegedly stabbed 21-year-old Britton Reed multiple times in a parking lot on the 100 block of Cleveland Avenue. Both the victim and accused man were at the 160 Club prior to the fight. In November, Lane pleaded no contest to assault with a deadly weapon and admitted to an allegation causing great bodily harm. He is scheduled to be sentenced in March. The incident that left one Auburn woman with severe mouth damage also happened outside of the bar. “We’d love to control that but unfortunately you can only do your best judgment,” Cheeseman said. “You try to make everybody safe and comfortable.” One way bar owners and law enforcement try to do that is by working together. Harris said officers will conduct requested walk-throughs of any business just to make their presence known. She recommends that any business ask for the same if they feel they need it. “We really try to make our presence known as a deterrent so that people can enjoy that business environment,” Harris said. Harris said in 2008, the police department responded to six calls citywide involving assault with great bodily injury. “Those are more of a rarity,” Harris said. Pete Aroz, Jr., manager of Pistol Pete’s in Auburn, said he’s had to call the police on occasion to escort someone from the bar, but usually it doesn’t result in an arrest. “That just keeps the peace and keeps violence from escalating in the business,” Aroz said. “I think that’s the way most people in the bar business handle it.” Harris said a combination of knowing your surroundings and an effort on the business’s part to keep an establishment safe are important. “You must balance alcohol consumption and putting yourself into environments that you feel are safe,” Harris said. Cheeseman agrees that bar owners do need to take on a certain level of responsibility. She said she keeps a list of anyone not allowed in her bar. She also encourages anyone and everyone to call her if they need a designated driver. The bar also offers unlimited soda and other non-alcoholic beverages to designated drivers. “People have a bad outlook on bars,” Cheeseman said. “Yes, we serve alcohol but we try to take care of our customers and the people who come in because they’re our family. Anybody who walks through that door is a part of our family.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment. Related Story: Business holds fundraiser for Auburn victim