Officials should create “drunk tanks,” decriminalize public intoxication

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In light of the decriminalization of public intoxication in both San Antonio and Houston, San Marcos and Hays County officials would be wise to pass a similar type of resolution, allowing students and residents a “get out of jail” free card for drunken mishaps.

Under these resolutions, individuals who would typically be arrested for public intoxication are instead brought to a sobriety center—colloquially known as a “drunk tank”—that offers a place to sleep and other resources. These individuals are permitted to leave freely without any criminal consequences from the “drunk tank” once they are deemed sober.

Police officers in San Antonio and Houston no longer arrest individuals for public intoxication. San Antonio opened a sobriety center in 2008 for police to use when bringing in an average of 650 people a month, according to a March 8 Austin American-Statesman article. In April 2013, Houston opened a sobriety center, and officials said it has saved 4,600 people from jail time that would have totaled $1.8 million a year, according to the article.

If “drunk tanks” have proved successful in large metro cities already, Austin and San Marcos officials are sure to follow suit in the coming years. Austin officials have continued to fight for “drunk tanks,” leading commissioners to approve a resolution last month encouraging the county to construct such a facility, according to a March 10 KXAN article. San Marcos officials are known for looking to Austin to implement resolutions and ordinances, and this instance would be no different. In addition, a sobriety center could easily be funded through the money the county would save by decriminalizing public intoxication.

As it stands now, students and residents arrested for public intoxication in San Marcos are thrown in the back of a police car, dropped off at the overcrowded Hays County Law Enforcement Center, fingerprinted, forced to pose for their mug shots, put through court hearings and often subject to costly lawyer and bail fees. Booking individuals for public intoxication arrests is a costly and lengthy process for officers and the county as a whole. In Austin, 10 percent of all arrests made in the past five years were for public intoxication, and it costs Travis County about $97 per day to incarcerate these individuals, according to the Austin American-Statesman article.

A move by San Marcos officials to decriminalize public intoxication would save the city and county countless amounts of time, money and much-needed jail space currently occupied by drunken students and residents who possibly had one too many whiskey sours. Many students out on The Square may have just turned 21 and are still learning the limits of their partying and drunkenness in public places. One especially crazy night out of downing shots at Vodka Street or Nephew’s should not have to turn into a lifelong mistake that lands the words “public intoxication” on a student’s permanent record.

San Marcos Police Department officers would be put to better use if they were spread out monitoring the entire community for serious crimes like drug arrests, shootings or assaults instead of posted up on several street corners and bar entrances racking up public intoxication arrests each night. Only a few SMPD officers would be necessary to patrol The Square, maintain the peace and bust fake IDs from underage students if public intoxication is decriminalized in San Marcos.

Instead of waking up in the morning with a court date and a mug shot, San Marcos students and residents should be able to spend the night at a “drunk tank” where they can safely sober up without possibly enduring legal ramifications for the rest of their lives. It is time SMPD officers loosen their reins on The Square.