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Published April 24, 2013, 08:48 AM

Williston suspends liquor licenses of two strip clubs

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Williston commissioners have suspended the liquor licenses of the city's two strip clubs in response to what police say are an excessive number of complaints about disorderly behavior.

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Williston commissioners have suspended the liquor licenses of the city's two strip clubs in response to what police say are an excessive number of complaints about disorderly behavior.

Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to suspend the license of Heartbreakers for 30 days and the license of Whispers for seven days, The Forum newspaper reported. The clubs adjacent to one another on the city's Main Street have violated ordinances related to serving drunken customers, allowing patrons to take alcohol outside and maintaining an orderly establishment, City Attorney Taylor Olson said.

The two bars often are responsible for three to four calls per night to police, while other bars in town have two or fewer each week, according to Police Chief Jim Lokken.

Olson said she tallied 120 calls to the two strip clubs between January 2012 and this past February, with 84 of those calls involving assaults, fights or gun incidents. Seven of those 120 calls resulted in criminal charges being filed, she said.

"I'm satisfied in my mind that for the safety of this community we need to do something. I think something needs to happen and it needs to happen now," City Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk said. "We need to send a message to this community that we are here to protect them, not necessarily you as the bar owner or the liquor license holder."

Police Sgt. Detective Dave Peterson said Heartbreakers, which opened in 2010, causes most of the problems, leading to the longer suspension.

Managers of both clubs deny that they are disorderly, saying employees monitor the door to prevent alcohol from leaving the premises and that workers take care to not over-serve patrons. They hinted that the problems with unruly people might be due to the oil boom in the region.

"Until recently, there were no issues on Main Street," said Michael Holub, manager of Whispers, which has been operating since 1999. "Now all of a sudden there are issues on Main Street. It's not coming from our place."

A recent law change banning smoking inside bars has pushed more customers outside, where they can't be monitored by bouncers, said Jared Holbrook, operations manager for Heartbreakers.

"The rate of crime has come up since then," Holbrook said. "We're doing everything that we can to stop it, but we're not going to go outside and monitor it on the public streets."

Managers of both clubs offered to pay for an off-duty police officer to park outside the clubs, but Police Chief Jim Lokken said officers are not allowed to work for liquor establishments. The clubs could hire private security, he said.

Holbrook said Heartbreakers already has four to five full-time security employees on site at all times, and employees walk female patrons to their cars.

"We put public safety at highest regard," he said.

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