Charleston funds mobile ID scanning for King Street area bars to combat underage drinking | News

More bars on Charleston’s nightlife corridor could have ID scanners ahead of the busy holiday season to combat underage drinking.

Charleston City Council on Nov. 22 unanimously approved putting $40,000 toward a contract with mobile ID scanning app Intellicheck.

Under a six-month pilot program beginning in December, bar owners on King Street and surrounding areas on the peninsula will be able to download the ID scanning app onto mobile phones used by bouncers free of charge. The software detects whether an ID is authentic or not.

Half of the funding will come from the city’s hospitality tax funds, and the other half will be provided by the convention and visitors bureau, Explore Charleston. The $40,000 will cover subscriptions to the service for 31 bar owners for six months. After the pilot period is over, bar owners can decide for themselves whether they want to continue their subscriptions.

“I think we will see a more managed crowd, not getting out of hand,” said Doug Warner, vice president of Media and Innovation of Explore Charleston. “That’s our hope.”

Lt. Jim Byrne of the Charleston Police Department said he is hopeful that bar owners will continue using the service after the six-month trial period ends. The department has several subscriptions to the Intellicheck already, which allows officers to scan IDs while working on King Street. Bouncers sometimes ask CPD officers to scan a suspicious ID when their scan is inconclusive or they don’t have a scanner of their own, Byrne said.

“Hopefully some of them will see the value,” Byrne said. “The bar industry is trending toward more responsibility and putting the onus of having a safe environment not only on the police but on the business themselves.”

Charleston’s Business Services Department has been conducting outreach over the past three months to find bar owners interested in signing up for the service. It is close to finding takers for all 31 subscriptions, said Business Services Director Meg Thompson.

Part of the appeal for the mobile app over a traditional scanner is that the app’s software updates as more information is collected on fake ID technology.

“It learns. … As fake IDs become more advanced, it’s able to adjust,” said Councilman Mike Seekings. Seekings led the effort to start the pilot program.

El Jefe Cantina owner Roy Neal first brought the technology to City Council’s attention in August. He said if more bar owners on King Street knew about it and had some incentive to start using it, they would find it useful.

“It’s the best app on the market,” Neal said at an August council meeting.

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The measure is part of the Charleston Police Department’s larger King Street safety plan.

In recent years, the city has dealt with shootings and large brawls in the area and has worked to balance increased security requirements with concerns about the ripple effects on business owners and personal liberties.

In August, council approved revisions to the Late Night Establishment Ordinance, which mandates certain safety requirements for any businesses that sell alcohol after midnight. The city established the permit program in 2013 and began requiring that all businesses submit safety plans to the city to receive a permit to sell alcohol after midnight. The new version of the ordinance takes effect Jan. 1.

The new version of the ordinance allows the city to revoke a bar or club’s Late Night Establishment permit for repeated violations. Doing only means the business would have to close at midnight. Before getting to that point, however, the business can meet with city staff to come up with a remediation plan.

Charleston City Councilman Robert Mitchell, whose district covers parts of Upper King Street, said making the scanning app available will help bar owners spot fake IDs more easily. Bar owners who are knowingly allowing underaged drinking won’t have the excuse of not knowing a patron is under 21.

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“If more of the businesses are going to be able to do that and they don’t adhere, they are going to get in trouble,” Mitchell said.

In another ongoing effort, the city made traffic flow changes permanent in October.

Parking on King Street is restricted from Spring to Calhoun streets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 6 pm to 3 am

During the same days and hours, traffic on King Street flows one way from Spring to John streets, with two-way traffic permitted between John and Calhoun streets to allow for access to parking garages.

Reach Emma Whalen at 843-708-5837. Follow her on Twitter @_emma_whalen.

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