Police presence affects Statesboro businesses

Casey Cargle

After the death of Michael Gatto, Statesboro residents, Georgia Southern students and parents were calling for action from the city regarding underage drinking.

According to a letter the city of Statesboro’s Public Safety Director Wendell Turner sent to the Mayor and City Council on Sept. 29, the city has responded to that call.

The “Alcohol Enforcement Operation,” as it is referred to in the letter, was initiated in September and started operations by beginning an “investigation regarding underage drinking primarily focusing on ‘on premise consumption’ licensee’s.”

This investigation required an increased law enforcement presence at alcohol-selling venues, which may have negatively affected business at those venues.

“We needed to be able to quantify what the problem was, pin-point where the major problems were and use that information to form a plan moving forward to reduce the instances of underage drinking,” Corporal Justin Samples, information officer at the Statesboro Police Department, said.

According to the Alcohol Enforcement Operation, the increased presence was for the purpose of gathering information detailing the amount of underage activity in alcohol-selling establishments. A secondary goal of the investigation was to see if their presence would deter underage drinkers from purchasing alcohol at these establishments.

The police department’s investigation concluded that there is an existing underage drinking problem “focused in and around the GSU campus and primarily from ‘on premise consumption licensee’s,'” according to the letter.

In the wake of this investigation, traditional alcohol-selling hotspots have seen a noticeable dip in business as police presence was more apparent after Gatto’s death.

“The first week I wasn’t really affected. After [the Gatto incident] happened, the first time [law enforcement] came out it affected my business literally 12 percent that week,” Nathan Queen, owner of Retrievers Sports Bar & Grill, said.

According to Chris Springfield, managing partner of South City Tavern, business was affected by the increased police presence due to the investigation.

“[The police presence] affected business quite a bit, not because of underage drinking, because that shouldn’t affect your business at all if you run your business legitimately,” Springfield said.

A majority of the 12 percent drop in business was likely due to underage customers avoiding the increased police presence. After that first week of losing business, the police came in every day for the next two weeks, Queen said.

“By the third week business was horrible. I could have just closed and not opened the whole week, and I would have made about the same amount of money,” Queen said.

In the past two weeks, business has steadily increased for Retrievers, Queen said.

“As long as everyone is willing to work together and everyone is willing to do the right thing and everyone is willing to run their business properly, then I think you will see a flourishing hospitality slash nightlife scene growing at the same rate as the college,” Springfield said.

According to Corporal Samples, the department has obtained the necessary information to move forward with the operation and patrons should see a drop in police presence.

“The visible presence is not going to happen, I don’t think, as often if at all. We are at the beginning stage of what we’re wanting to do,” Corporal Samples said.

Moving forward, the Alcohol Enforcement Operation will move to its next phases with a plan to stem underage drinking while fostering the growth of a healthy drinking culture for Statesboro.

Springfield said, “I hate it that it took a tragedy of that magnitude for everyone to wake up and realize there was an issue that needed to be addressed, but I also feel like it is in the best interest of everybody in Statesboro that it is finally being addressed because people need to be able to go out and feel safe. Hopefully that will be the good thing that comes out this.”

Want to know more about the future of drinking in Statesboro? Check out an upcoming edition for more info and continuing coverage.