City park alcohol ban sees ‘positive’ results

News Reporter

A year has passed since public consumption and display of alcohol was banned in city parks, a move city officials say has resulted in less crime as visitors have sobered up.

Fire Marshal Ken Bell and Rodney Cobb, executive director of community services, gave an update on the alcohol ban in city parks during Tuesday’s city council meeting. Bell and Cobb reported that fewer arrests and hospitalizations resulting from medical issues in city parks have occurred since the ban went into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Bell said the alcohol ban has helped eliminate a “witching hour” at night when there was typically a spike in criminal incidents and hospitalizations. Bell said this spike often resulted after visitors had spent roughly eight hours drinking in the parks.

The city averaged 20 hospitalizations due to activity in city parks in summers before the ordinance was passed, Bell said, in comparison to five hospitalizations this summer.

Bell said people have also been “hypersensitive” about throwing beer cans in trash cans since the ordinance went into effect.

Bell said the results of the ordinance have been “extremely” positive. He said contrary to popular belief, the ordinance is not an outright ban of alcohol.

“It is not an alcohol ban, it just cannot be visible,” Bell said.

Bell said the ordinance was designed with voluntary compliance in mind, and citizens were expected to simply obey the rules. He said this expectation was fulfilled, and residents have said the ordinance has positively impacted the parks.

“More families are using the parks during the week, and we’ve been seeing a lot of young adults and students from the university,” Bell said. “We’re not seeing as much undesirable behavior as we’ve seen in
the past.”

Councilmember Lisa Prewitt, Place 1, asked Bell if the majority of arrests at parks come from non-residents. Bell said this was true, and violators have traditionally been from out of town.
“The local folks here get it,” Bell said. “They knew this was coming.”

Guerrero, who voted in favor of the ban in 2012, said one of the reasons he supported the ordinance was due to personal experience. During his first year in office, Guerrero said he received a large amount of calls from people saying they were never going back to the river because of unruly behavior.

Guerrero asked Bell if the city has provided funds for additional personnel to help enforce the ordinance. Bell said city funds were used to hire a full-time enforcement management position, which will soon be filled.

Councilmember Jude Prather, Place 2, said he was glad to see a decrease in undesirable behavior as a result of the alcohol ban.

“It’s really positive to hear our parks are safer because of it,” Prather said.