Concerned about prostitution and other crime, the city of Plymouth is debating whether to require hotel guests to provide photo IDs when they register in any of the community's six hotels.

The city has been working on an ordinance since January and recently postponed a decision until its May 8 meeting.

State law requires guests 18 or older who stay overnight to give hotel registration clerks their name, date of birth, home address, and the make, model and license plate number of the vehicle they arrived in.

But Plymouth police say that thefts, assaults and prostitution have been a problem in the hotels, and they proposed that the city require all guests 18 or older -- not just the person paying the bill -- to show photo IDs at check-in.

"All we're doing is expanding the statutes very slightly," Police Chief Mike Goldstein said.

Crime rates have not increased in the hotels, Goldstein said, but police want to have "another tool in our tool kit" when they encounter problems. "That would give us a better case in court if we were to pursue some sort of criminal charges against the occupants of one of the rooms," he said.

Another part of the proposal would make it a misdemeanor for guests to provide false information when they register.

Leading the way

Plymouth Mayor Kelli Slavik likes the idea, and said that a picture ID will enhance public safety because it gives hotel managers and police the ability to confirm the identity of a customer. "If we can find a way to keep these criminals from staying in Plymouth, we'll certainly look at the means to do that," she said.

Slavik said that Plymouth is apparently the first local community to advance the idea. "Other cities are looking to Plymouth to see what we do before they decide to enact an ordinance similar to this," she said.

The proposal was scheduled for a vote earlier this month, but Council Member Judy Johnson said she wanted more time to hear reaction from city hotels. "The whole council is very pro-business and the intentions are good, but I can foresee some problems for the hotels," she said in an interview. "For a couple checking in, it's not a big deal. But other guests arrive at hotels too, sometimes on large tour buses."

Mike Serr, general manager of Crowne Plaza Hotel, the largest in the city, said the photo ID requirement is not the industry standard. It would be burdensome and inconvenient, he said, and would create lengthy check-in lines that might drive customers in the highly competitive hotel industry to other cities.

"We're in the hospitality business, and if 99.9 percent of my customers aren't somebody I have to worry about, why am I penalizing them for the 0.1 percent that might be here for prostitution?" he said.

Coping with groups

With 243 guest rooms and 40 meeting rooms, the hotel accommodates groups of all sizes, Serr said. Senior citizens on a tour bus who are preregistered and receive their room keys upon arrival before they even get off the bus. Family weddings where the father of the bride may have 10 rooms on his credit card and the guests are all arriving at different times. Local firms that hold business meetings at company expense and rent all the rooms in a block.

Check-in for all of them would be more complicated and time-consuming, Serr said, if every person had to show photo IDs at the time they registered.

The industry is moving in the opposite direction, he said, trying to make registration as quick as possible and even experimenting with self check-in kiosks.

The Crowne Plaza, like many other hotels, Serr said, already asks the person paying the bill to present a photo ID to be sure that the name and other information matches that on the credit card.

However, Capt. Craig Lindman, also on the police force, said that most other hotels in the city support the changes and that he'll be talking directly with their managers in the next week to explain the latest revised ordinance more fully. An earlier version required that the IDs be government-issued and that hotel clerks write down the numbers of passports or driver's licenses and keep them for a year. Those conditions were dropped because of hotel concerns about increasing the risk of identity theft.

Slavik said the photo ID requirement will not be burdensome. Some have objected to long registration lines for athletic teams that stay in hotels, she said, but the ordinance would not apply for those younger than 18. "It's just an overall public safety issue where the police department thought they could make some improvements," she said.

Serr said he knows all of the city's other hotel managers, and prostitution is not a problem that he's heard about. Even if it was, Serr said, the proposed ordinance would not prevent it.

"If I'm a hotel guest here to do illegal activity, whether it's drugs or prostitution or whatever, chances are I'm not going to check in my hooker," he said.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388