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Belltown ruckus renews call for staggered closing times

By state law, bars in Washington have to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. And when bars close down, people who’ve been drinking hit the streets all at once. In Seattle last weekend, that phenomenon became extreme in the Belltown neighborhood, reviving a public policy debate.

It’s normal for police to see a couple hundred people outside bars in Seattle at closing time on weekends. But early Sunday morning around last call at 1:30, Detective Mark Jamieson says the crowd in Belltown was so large that Seattle police had to close down an entire city block to control the scene.

“First Ave between Blanchard and Bell. And it lasted about an hour,” Jamieson said. “We shut down the street just to accommodate the sheer volume of people that were down there.” 

He says one officer estimated the crowd at about a thousand people. No one was arrested and no injuries were reported, but the police say when crowds and alcohol mix, the potential for violence spikes. And they were worried someone might get hit by a car.

The incident is a reminder of why Seattle asked the state Liquor Control Board a year and a half ago to look at letting the city extend some bar hours to stagger closing times. It was part of an initiative to improve nightlife, says Robert Cruikshank with the mayor’s office.  

“It wouldn’t be the whole city,” Cruikshank said. “It would be some neighborhoods and there would be a very rigorous process, which a bar would have to go through to even get this approved.”

He says that could help police deploy their resources more efficiently rather than trying to deal with huge crowds all at once.

But, after a series of public hearings, the state Liquor Control Board rejected Seattle’s proposal, 2-to-1. They said research showed more often than not that extended bar hours decrease public safety and increase the need for nighttime patrol squads.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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