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Businesses complain military after-hours drinking ban ‘unfair’

Date Posted: 2010-06-17

The military isn’t calling its new after-hours drinking off-base policy a curfew, but businesses outside military installations are saying they’re losing business to a policy that isn’t needed and doesn’t make sense.

The ban on off-base drinking after midnight—or even being in establishments selling alcohol—was imposed last Friday by Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, the Okinawa Area Coordinator and Commanding General III Marine Expeditionary Force. His policy order, which is applicable to members of all services in Okinawa, directs that “all service members on Okinawa are prohibited from patronizing off-base bars and clubs or any establishment where the primary business is the sale and consumption of alcohol after midnight.

As bars and clubs surrounding military installations went through their first weekend without service members after midnight, complaints and criticism were quick in coming. “Is this a suitable measure or what?” asks Okinawa City’s mayor, Mitsuko Tomon. “Is it really an effective measure? I believe that shop owners’ economic problems might come up, so I would like to see the effects of the current situation.”

“It was two years ago that we suffered very big sales damages because of an off limits ordinance, and then a curfew came out and I almost closed my shop,” said one club owner, noting “I tried hard to work and managed to survive. Now, again, it is prohibited for our customers to come to clubs or bars after midnight. Why? We make most of our money after midnight.”

Lt. Gen. Robling says he implemented the policy change after “a joint task force comprised of all the U.S. services conducted a comprehensive month-long internal examination of policies and procedures that govern conduct and discipline on and off duty”. The joint task force was created in late March due to a number of off-base vehicle accidents and alleged misconduct by service members. “The liberty policy change is designed to promote good order and discipline and reduce off-base misconduct,” he said. “This change will ultimately serve our interest in reaffirming the trust, confidence and rapport with our local community.”

A news release said Robling is considering expanding courtesy patrols “to focus on additional areas of concern. However, no decision has been made yet with regard to exact locations.” The courtesy patrols—teams of 3-4 service personnel in uniform—already patrol on weekends and holiday liberty periods in areas most often frequented by Status of Forces Agreement personnel during liberty hours. Okinawa police in March filed a request with the military seeking countermeasures after a U.S. military vehicle struck a car in Nago City’s Henoko district, injuring three local personnel.

Near Camp Hansen, a Kin Town Shinkai area downtown club owner said “of my club’s customers, 90% are military people. I’m going to lose sales big time.” Kin Town residents say the Military Police patrol system works fine, and there’s no crime or scandals, so “we want our military people quickly back again.” The chairman of the Koza Gate Street Association, Seiei Gakiya, says “we already tell military personnel to go home and sleep if they become drunk in our establishments. They listen to us, so what is different now that caused the prohibition on going out after midnight?”

A former Okinawa Prefecture Police Chief Detectives took the issue to another level, suggesting “this should not be only for military people, but should apply to local people, too. It is good to make limitations on drinking after midnight, and is very effective for preventing crime and staving off danger.” He also said “accidents might be reduced” by reducing the numbers of drunk people.

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