O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon City Council advances hotel ordinance amendment

The O’Fallon Progress

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Sometimes, law enforcement needs hotel staff to cooperate with an investigation without having to wait for a warrant or subpoena. When a recent discovery in case law concerning hotel registry was made, the city of O’Fallon prepared an ordinance amendment to safeguard that the police are not hampered in their duties.

O’Fallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook said it appears hotels cannot be compelled to provide law enforcement with hotel registry information, even consensually, without a warrant or subpoena.

He provided this link: http://www.stokeswagner.com/publications/an-update-on-the-ability-of-the-police-to-search-hotel-records

The city prepared an ordinance amendment, placing it on the March 18 O’Fallon City Council agenda because of the urgency involved. The council advanced it, unanimously without discussion, for final approval at the April 1 meeting.

The city currently requires the operators of hotels, motels, and other lodgings to open their guest registers for inspection by the police at any and all times.

“Hotels are an important part of our community, and we want to ensure best practices are used in our interactions,” Van Hook said. “We are always looking for opportunities to better serve and safeguard our businesses and their patrons.”

He said the case law review provided examples of options to secure and later review the registries under a search warrant or subpoena.

“One example, which we believe would be appropriate for the city and in the best interest of law enforcement investigations, is to require hotel management to have some sort of system in place to secure the ‘traditional’ and/or ‘electronic’ registration systems in the presence of an officer and must ensure that no one is able to tamper with the records until such time as a subpoena, warrant or other court order has been issued or denied,” he said.

Also reviewing the information was the Crime Free Housing Coordinator, Asst. Community Development Director, and Community Development Coordinator, who were all in agreement with the need for urgent amendment of the ordinance in the best interest of public safety.

The current ordinance requires persons who rent hotel rooms to provide identification.: “The operators of hotels, motels, and other lodgings must obtain the following information and record it in a register: The full name of each guest; the home or business telephone number of each guest; and the license plate number and state of issue for all guest vehicles that will be parked at the establishment.”

These registers help discourage the use of hotel rooms for illegal activities, particularly prostitution and narcotics offenses.

“They are of a significant aid to the police in preventing crime and capturing persons wanted for criminal acts,” the ordinance states.

The proposed amendment further spells out identification to mean “Identification document means a document that contains the name, date of birth, description and picture of a person, issued by the federal government, the State of Illinois, another state, a county or municipal government subdivision or one of their agencies, including but not limited to: A motor vehicle operator’s license, an identification card, or an identification card issued to a member of the Armed Forces. Identification document also includes a passport issued by a foreign government or a consular identification card, issued by a foreign government to any of its citizens and nationals, which has been approved by the City of O’Fallon as valid identification.”

O’Fallon, with its interstate access, has 11 existing hotels and two new hotels expected to open along Interstate 64. Next year, the city is estimated to collect more than $2.3 million in hotel/motel taxes.

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