INDIANAPOLIS — Our investigation into several problem bars in Marion County with a pattern of high volumes of police runs for violent crime has caught the attention of state lawmakers who have the power to make changes to the current enforcement laws.

The response from Republican State Senator Ron Atling, who chairs the public policy committee, comes on the same day the owner of Tiki Bob’s Cantina, a bar we profiled in our investigation one week ago, put out a social media post stating he was closing his establishment.

Alting says the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission is too underfunded and understaffed, and has been for a while, to handle enforcing the state’s alcohol laws.

“I think you’ll see in the budget some extra money that will bump them up so that’ll be good on that,” Atling said.

Process of removing liquor licenses from establishments

Alting told our crews he does not believe the local alcoholic beverage board is doing enough to address bad behavior and to quickly shut down troubled bars.

“We’ve even got an alcoholic commission in Marion County who could vote unanimously to remove the license immediately of these establishments and then it would go to the ATC to react,” Atling said. “It would give them some facts and some teeth to be able to do that. No one’s talking about that.”

But, we checked in with a local board member who confirms the local board cannot take any immediate action to remove a bar’s license. They can make recommendations to the ATC, which then has the final vote.

The board member notes the local board has been overruled by the state in the past. Last week, State President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray pointed to the City of Indianapolis who he said should do more to prevent violent crime by putting more police outside of bars.

“If the city is serious about that, they’ll put a law enforcement officer outside those bars and the prosecutor will take those very seriously,” Bray said.

Our investigation found local police make arrests in the often dozens or hundreds of times they respond to problem bars.

“The city’s spending significant resources to maintain order in not only downtown but areas like Broad Ripple,” said IMPD Capt. Christopher Boomershine.

IMPD says it does not have authority to shut down any establishments.

“We would like to have a little bit more input at the local level on the violence at the bars, nightclubs and event halls,” Boomershine said.

Bray also told reporters the ATC is not responsible for preventing violent crime inside bars or on the properties.

“I think if you look at the ATC, that’s an administrative agency that makes sure that underage drinking doesn’t happen in those establishments and makes sure the alcohol laws are being followed,” Bray said. “They’re not there to prevent murders or fights or violence.”

Our reporting partners with the IndyStar found a significant decrease in the ATC’s enforcement efforts to curb underage drinking. The Star found last year, the agency conducted merely a fifth of the underage drinking checks it did in 2014.

State process to shutdown problem bar is not quick

The process to get a bar shut down is a lengthy one, which is why Atling said he hopes the process will be examined and potentially changed.

“When the ATC sends in the papers of an infraction that they have caused, immediately they get their attorney to file the papers and that delays it, and they can still keep open by law while they’re going through the process,” Atling said.

Boomershine added he has not heard from the ATC nor Atling since our investigation was published, but he does look forward to collaborating with them soon.

“We would like to talk to him about all of the issues that we believe have stood in the way of the progress,” Boomershine said. “We would like to see laws that allow earlier intervention into the chaos, disorder and violence at bars.”

Governor responds to investigation

Atling said any change to the ATC’s policies and procedures would come from the ATC and Governor Holcomb. In response to the investigation, Holcomb told reporters, “If there are ways to improve the system, the door’s wide open. And we’re not going to be a roadblock in the way of helping local communities help themselves.”