CITYWIDE — If you get your jollies sneaking sips out of Jim Beam bottles in public parks, your time is up.
On April 12, the City Council will hear a second reading of a new ordinance that would prohibit people from carrying open alcoholic beverages on public property, which has Santa Monica Police Department officers breathing a sigh of relief.
The ordinance will close a long-standing loophole in city codes, which makes it illegal to drink alcohol in public spaces but says nothing against having an open can or bottle in hand.
That gap between enforcement and practice has been the source of major frustration for the police department, said Neighborhood Resource Officer Scott McGee.
McGee patrols Beat 5, which encompasses the area from Montana Avenue up to the northern city limits, and describes open containers as a “daily occurrence.”
“Even if they’re holding it in their hand, but we don’t see them drinking it, there’s not much we can do at the moment,” McGee said. “For us, that’s undesirable, because it leads to public intoxication, which endangers the public at large, the health and safety of the intoxicated person as well as the city resources to care for that person.”
Officers actually have to catch a person with the can or bottle to their lips to make contact with them and enforce the standing rule against drinking in public.
Since repeat offenders know the rules, that can be a difficult task, particularly if there are other calls or incidents that police, fire or other emergency personnel have to respond to in the course of their shift.
If officers have time to wait until a person slips, they will, McGee acknowledged, but it’s not often that they can devote their resources to it.
Having an open container is already illegal under state law, explained City Attorney Marsha Moutrie at the March 22 City Council meeting.
“But we can’t use it unless we adopt it,” she said.
Activist Jerry Rubin, who commented on the proposal, said it was a “no brainer.”
“Carrying an open container and saying you won’t drink out of it is like carrying a lit cigarette somewhere and saying you’re not smoking,” Rubin said. “This will tighten it up, it’s a good thing.”
The City Council heard the first reading of the ordinance at the meeting, and passed it without discussion or debate. The second reading, and likely adoption, of the ordinance will take place at the April 12 meeting.
The SMPD officers are happy for that day to come, McGee said.
“Without that section as a tool, it inhibits us from being able to enforce the possession of an open container,” he said. “There’s a snowball effect … It snowballs and police get involved when we could be assisting with other priority calls, and the same with fire and paramedics.”