Devils Lake police have been handling a large volume of calls involving intoxicated people
Police in the northeastern North Dakota city of Devils Lake have barred businesses from selling alcohol to area residents who have been jailed repeatedly in the past year for drunken offenses or detoxification.
Most 21 people on the initial list were American Indians who live on the nearby Spirit Lake Reservation.
"To be honest with you, it did seem racially motivated," said Paul Matheny, general manager of the tribe's Spirit Lake Casino, who was asked by the Tribal Council to look into the matter.
Devils Lake Police Chief Keith Schroeder said the effort is data-driven. Those deemed "habitual drunkards" were taken into custody more than five times in the past year for liquor-related offenses or detoxification.
"It is a sensitive subject," Schroeder said. "We are not singling out these people because of race."
The list was pared to seven names after officials learned some of the offenses did not occur in the city. Tribal members who were jailed for reservation alcohol violations were housed in the regional jail in Devils Lake last year because the reservation's jail in Fort Totten was being remodeled. Tribal council members had been hearing from upset constituents who were on the Devils Lake "habitual drunkard" list even though they hadn't been in the city, Matheny said.
Devils Lake police have been handling a large volume of calls involving intoxicated people, Schroeder said. Calls include public urination, fights and medical problems related to severe intoxication. More than 250 people were jailed last year to detoxify from alcohol, costing the city about $9,000.
A small number of people generate the majority of the calls, Schroder said. For example, one person was placed in detox 47 times, accounting for nearly one-fifth of the total.
Schroeder said health and safety is another reason for the edict.
"This is hopefully to work in the best interest of the people we are denying alcohol to," he said. "We are concerned for their safety. Throwing them in jail is not the fix."
The response from bars and liquor stores has been mixed, Schroeder said, with some regarding the policy as another way for police to threaten an establishment's license. That is not the intent, he said.
"What else can you do for this person? This is seven people who have problems and they need help," he said.
Ailsa Olengerger, co-owner of the Liquor Locker, said people on the "no serve list" likely will just find others to buy alcohol for them, but she doesn't oppose the effort.
"It's something you can't totally control, but you can make it a deterrent," she said.