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HCSO commends BOCC on unanimous approval to adjust hookah lounge hours

For Immediate Release : Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office
Release Number: 21-172


Wednesday August 18, 2021 10:15 AM


Hillsborough County, FL
HCSO commends BOCC on unanimous approval to adjust hookah lounge hours

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office would like to commend the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on passing an ordinance that will require county hookah lounges to close from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. daily in the interest of public safety. Commissioners unanimously approved the new ordinance on Wednesday, August 18, 2021.
Since March of 2019, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Tampa Police Department have responded to 17 violent incidents involving firearms at local hookah lounges. The calls for service have ranged from shots fired at buildings, vehicles, or innocent patrons following arguments. One of those incidents resulted in a homicide. This year alone, 2021, accounts for 10 of the 17 incidents. Each act of violence occurred between approximately 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. when traditional bars are closed.
“Those calls for service do not include the 76 ‘nuisance calls,’ made up of disturbances, thefts, burglaries, fights and assaults, to name a few,” said Chief Deputy Donna Lusczynski, who spoke before the BOCC on Wednesday morning. “Although arrests can be made for some of these violations, it is clear from a law enforcement perspective that the best way to address these ongoing, increasing problems surrounding hookah lounges is to set more rules in place, holding lounges to a higher standard.”
The extended hours of operation not only creates a dangerous environment for criminal activity, but also affects the quality of life for residents and other businesses surrounding hookah lounges.
The Sheriff’s Office received a complaint from the pastor of West Broad Street Baptist Church expressing concerns about an increase in crime on and around his church property as a result of a nearby hookah lounge. The house of worship was struck with seven bullets in September of 2020 following a shooting outside a nearby lounge. In addition to damaged property, church staff has observed an increase in illegal parking, littering, public urination, prostitution and drug use on their property.
Throughout the course of undercover investigations inside local hookah lounges, HCSO detectives have witnessed drug transactions, illegal alcohol sales, dancers in various stages of undress performing, and patrons and staff in possession of firearms. The lack of regulations at these establishments creates opportunities for other dangerous behavior and crimes, such as underage drinking, overdoses, DUI crashes and human trafficking.
Under the new ordinance approved on Wednesday, hookah lounges will be required to close at 3 a.m., matching the rules already in place for bars and nightclubs that serve alcohol. A violation of the ordinance, which will be enforced by HCSO deputies and county code enforcement officers, could result in criminal charges or a civil penalty fine of up to $500.
“We are thankful that our county commissioners, Commissioner Harry Cohen in particular who initiated this ordinance, listened to the concerns of law enforcement, and ultimately, put the safety of our community first in making their decision,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “Our only objective is to ensure that lounge patrons and other innocent citizens are safe, and we look forward to working with hookah lounge owners to prevent crime in and around their establishments."

To view the full BOCC meeting, click here. (hookah lounge discussion begins at approx. 1:18:30).