SD: Fargo officials take first step toward ID scanners in bars with proposed liquor law changes
Required ID scanners and improved video equipment at bars among issues presented to Liquor Control Board and City Commission.
Written By Barry Amundson
December 14, 2021
FARGO –City officials are proposing substantial revisions to Fargo’s liquor laws and regulations for the approximate 100 bars in the city.
Future City Attorney Nancy Morris, Police Chief David Zibolski and City Auditor Steve Sprague, who monitors licensing, described the proposals as preliminary talking points. They said they wanted direction to move ahead as they met with the Liquor Control Board and City Commission on Tuesday, Dec. 14.
“We want to ensure public safety but also allow operators to flourish,” Zibolski said.
The changes proposed would affect public safety by targeting changes to technology in bars, bouncers, penalties and background checks for owners and general managers.
The most controversial item would likely be requiring identification scanners in all bars and off-sale establishments along with quality video equipment.
Restaurants with liquor licenses would be exempt from those provisions, Sprague said.
Zibolski said there were “a lot of really good fake IDs out there,” and scanners could help with the issue.
The estimated cost for a quality scanner would be about $400 to $1,000, he said.
The chief said Cass County Public Health would continue to do alcohol compliance checks with law enforcement to ensure alcohol isn’t being sold to minors.
As for video equipment, the chief said, some bars have high-quality equipment, some have low-quality equipment and others don’t have it all.
The revised regulations would also require footage to be kept 14 to 30 days. If a criminal incident in a bar needed to be examined, the city could then subpoena to obtain the archived footage.
Zibolski said some recent incidents involved reports of victims saying something was put into their drinks or incidents where bouncers may have overstepped their boundaries, and video evidence could help with investigations.
Quality surveillance footage could also be valuable to bar owners to monitor for any internal theft.
However, City Commissioner and Liquor Control Board Chairman Dave Piepkorn said he was “very concerned about the city” telling bars, often independently owned small businesses, they are required to have scanners and high-quality video systems.
“It’s big government intruding on their businesses,” he said.
Commissioner John Strand said he “very much welcomed the discussion, though.”
“I would like to learn more,” he said.
Commissioner Arlette Preston wondered if the businesses’ liability insurance would require the ID scanners and video equipment.
Liquor Board Commissioner Kay Schwartzwalter said if she was in a liquor establishment she would “expect and deserve to be safe” and spoke in favor of the video and ID scanners.
Another major proposed change was to require bouncer training that could possibly involve de-escalating situations.
Zibolski suggested having all bouncers complete alcohol server training. be required to stay on bar premises and to call police if needed.
He said there have been occasions where the bouncers have “overstepped their boundaries.”
As for background checks, Morris and Zibolski said they would like to require notification whenever new owners or general managers change so they could conduct reviews. The chief said they could set deadlines for compliance and possible penalties.
In addition, he’s proposing FBI checks on the new owners and managers so any major criminal records from all states could be identified.
Other proposals include are tightening or increasing penalties for violations such as serving or selling to minors.
Piepkorn said there would be plenty of time for public comment on the proposals as they go before the Liquor Board and City Commission in future months, noting he expected some of the plans to be controversial.
Sprague suggested they consider adopting one area of the plan at a time and move at a slower pace.
Strand said he would like to see discussions on liquor license ownership, including how many are issued and hours of operation for bars.
Preston said she appreciated the work on the proposals as she continues to have concerns about public safety issues.