EDITORIAL – Extended bar hours: Prudent policy or ‘one for the road’?

Later hours for bars and nightclubs may provide opportunities for partiers and business owners to celebrate, but may also lead to additional headaches … for police.

This week, Grand Cayman’s Liquor Licensing Board announced that bars and clubs can now stay open later at night on Mondays through Fridays.

(To be precise, bars can stay open until 2 a.m., and clubs can stay open until 4 a.m., into the wee hours of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.)

On Saturday nights, the “Cinderella” curfew remains in place — with bars and clubs still having to shut down when the clock strikes midnight, ushering in Sunday.

In regard to allowing bars and clubs to operate later, the Compass has no particular issue. As a matter of principle, the owners of any legal, licensed and otherwise upstanding businesses should be allowed to open when they want and close when they want, on any day they want — dictated not according to the whims of government officials, but by the needs and desires of customers.

That being said, if officials are going to place restrictions on certain types of businesses (say, ones that serve alcohol), then they should do so only after consulting with the appropriate stakeholders, and giving priority to the public interest, rather than special interests.

The extension of hours for “boozing” is a reflection of the fact that Cayman is an international tourism destination and is a concession to that 21st century reality. Tourists expect it.

However, it is logical to anticipate that increasing the amount of time that people can engage in social drinking in public could lead to an increase in post-drinking behavior that is irresponsible, illegal and dangerous — such as violence or driving under the influence.

Therefore, it seems to us remarkable, and not in a good way, that the Liquor Licensing Board did not appear to seek advice or opinions from the agency that will be responsible for dealing with the effects of the change in policy; namely, the police.

Acting Commissioner of Police Anthony Ennis said, in a news story we published Wednesday, “It is disappointing to learn of the decision to extend hours for bars and nightclubs selling liquor via a media query; although not strictly required, the RCIPS was not invited or consulted on the consequential impact that this will likely have on public safety and police resource deployment, which will have to be adjusted or shifted to address the increase in the number of incidents we have already seen occurring around nightclubs in the early morning hours.”

We share, and echo, Commissioner Ennis’s concerns.

We’ll also raise a question of our own, from a business perspective. How is it that government officials continue to allow bar and club patrons to drink (and if they so choose, to drink themselves into oblivion) later and later into the night … now almost until sunrise … but for only five days a week — and not on Saturday night (arguably the best partying night of the week)?

The answer, of course, is political. It appears to stem from perceived or actual pressure from churches (armed with congregations of voters) to keep their day of worship set apart, not only spiritually but secularly. It’s similar to why Cayman still clings to long-obsolete Sunday trading laws. (Never mind the knotty little detail that bars, after closing at midnight, can re-open before noon on Sunday.)

Our sober thought is that this makes little sense. Coherent regulation should not come with a religious “chaser.”