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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Clash over Atlantic City’s late-night business regulations

Atlantic City's safety-focused business closure ordinance sparks debate on rights vs. security in high-crime areas

In a bid to curb crime and enhance public safety, Atlantic City recently enacted an ordinance that requires certain businesses in high-crime areas to close their doors from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. However, this move has sparked controversy, leading to a lawsuit by the Pakistani-American Muslim Organization of South Jersey and affected business owners. While the intention behind the ordinance is clear, the debate centers on whether it infringes upon business owners’ rights and unfairly targets specific communities.

Controversial Ordinance

The ordinance in question, known as Ordinance No. 22, was introduced to combat criminal activities such as drug dealing and loitering around open businesses during late hours, especially along Atlantic Avenue. About 20 businesses identified as being in areas of concern were instructed to comply with the new closing hours or face fines, jail time, and potential license suspension. The city aimed to use this approach as a deterrent, hoping that fewer open businesses would discourage criminal behavior.

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Lawsuit and Legal Battle

Promptly after the ordinance’s announcement, the Pakistani-American Muslim Organization of South Jersey, alongside business owners, filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. The lawsuit raised concerns about potential discrimination against specific ethnic groups and questioned the validity of the waiver process outlined in the ordinance. The presiding judge, Michael Blee, dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted the available waiver process, which allows businesses to seek exemptions based on hardship and other factors.

Waiver Process

The waiver process outlined in the ordinance holds a key role in this legal battle. While critics argue that it was not implemented until after the lawsuit was filed, proponents assert that it provides an avenue for businesses to address their concerns and seek exceptions to the mandatory closing hours. Director of Licensing and Inspections Dale Finch is responsible for granting waivers, taking into account factors such as business hardships and the effectiveness of the ordinance in curbing criminal activities.

Balancing Public Safety and Business Rights

The heart of the matter lies in striking a balance between public safety measures and the rights of business owners. The city contends that the ordinance is aimed at creating a safer environment by reducing opportunities for crime to occur. Police Chief James Sarkos emphasized that while the intention is to collaborate with businesses for safety and success, criminal activities often thrive around late-night operating establishments.

Ethical and Legal Concerns

Critics, including the Pakistani-American Muslim Organization and affected business owners, argue that the ordinance infringes upon their rights to operate their establishments as they see fit. They maintain that the blanket approach of mandating closure for specific hours disproportionately impacts their businesses and livelihoods. Moreover, the accusation of discrimination adds an ethical layer to the debate, with business owners claiming they are being unfairly singled out based on their ethnicity.

Avenues for Resolution

As the legal battle continues, there are potential avenues for resolution. Business owners have the right to appeal the waiver review decisions, allowing for a more comprehensive examination of the ordinance’s constitutionality. This appeal process could provide a more nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by businesses, the effectiveness of the ordinance, and its impact on public safety.

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The clash between public safety measures and business rights in Atlantic City highlights the complexities of maintaining order while respecting individual liberties. As the legal proceedings unfold, it remains to be seen whether the waiver process will address the concerns raised by business owners and whether the ordinance itself strikes an appropriate balance between curbing crime and safeguarding business interests. Ultimately, the outcome will shape the approach that cities across the nation take when addressing similar issues in the pursuit of safer communities.