Daytona Beach addresses pot, bar policies

Daytona Beach City Commissioners voted Wednesday night to support a proposed ordinance to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.  They took a first vote on a plan that would allow police officers to issue a civil fine instead of making an arrest when they find someone with twenty grams or less of marijuana. 

The plan would still give officers discretion to arrest the person.   City Commissioners will hold a public hearing next month, and they could take a final vote on the plan that night.

Daytona Beach city leaders also want to crack down on some bars and clubs where crime is a concern. They're focused on Seabreeze Boulevard.  City commissioners want those bar owners to step up security, or risk losing the right to stay open late.

Bobby Abraham works at Mr.  Pizza Plus.  He stays open until four AM selling pizza to people who come out of bars and clubs on Seabreeze Blvd.   Abraham tells Fox 35 News that late night crime is a concern, and he hopes police will respond faster.   "They need to be in here," says Abraham.  "There need to be two or three police cars around this, especially this area that has clubs. They need to be more in this area."

Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood says there was a crime spike on Seabreeze Blvd. last year.   He says stepped up patrols have crime under control again but there is a cost, and he believes bar owners should help pay it.  "It runs me about 150 thousand dollars a year to put enough police officers out there to police the area.  A lot of that should be done by the bar owners."

Chitwood says the late night problems spill out of the bars and clubs onto the street.  This year, police have run a dozen stings in some clubs there using undercover officers.  "They've purchased drugs- purchased drugs from juveniles at two o'clock in the morning.  There are certified gang members from Orlando that are armed with guns, set up shop in one of the bars selling drugs."

Wednesday night, city commissioners took a first vote supporting a new plan to lower the price bar owners pay for a permit to sell alcohol between midnight and 3 a.m.   The ordinance would also require them to use security cameras and security guards.

The plan would also allow Chief Chitwood to suspend a club's after hours permit for a month if managers cannot control crime on their property.    He says, "It's not fair to the rest of the city that come four o'clock in the morning, I have to pull ten or fifteen cops from around the city and put them in that block to control this."

Abraham says his team would pay more for fast police protection.  "If they're going to be here, I support that.  If they are going to be here, but I'm not just paying money for nothing," he says.

Wednesday night's vote was the first reading on the proposed ordinance.  City commissioners will hold a public hearing and a second vote on this issue at their next meeting on June 1.