Proposal could ban alcohol in three downtown Columbia parks

Monday, August 2, 2010 | 4:18 p.m. CDT; updated 10:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 2, 2010

COLUMBIA — Richard Craghead wants his park back. He lives in Paquin Tower and used to enjoy the small park behind it. But most people now are too afraid to use Paquin Park, he said.

"There's a lot of people using the park for drinking," said Craghead, the outgoing resident association president. "They tend to get a little bit inebriated, and they tend to bother the residents here."


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A proposal to ban alcohol in this and two other downtown parks would close a loophole in city law for these areas and would try to decrease public drunkenness among the city's homeless population.

The two other parks targeted by the ordinance are Flat Branch Park and Village Square Park.

Citizen complaints led to Columbia Police Department Officer Tamera Adams proposing in a memo she wrote in early July that an ordinance be written.

In her memo, Adams, a three-year veteran of patrolling the downtown area, said the second biggest complaint she hears involves homeless people drinking or passed out

She said she noticed people were getting around the city's open container law by drinking in the parks.

City law prohibits open alcohol containers on city streets, sidewalks and parking garages. However, drinking is not prohibited in a city park, as long as the person is not "under the influence of intoxicating liquor."

In a 2006 document, Parks and Recreation Department Director Mike Hood said the language of this ordinance is difficult to define but generally police only arrest people if they are intoxicated.

Whether or not someone is intoxicated is determined by a combination of clues including the person's behavior or blood alcohol content.

Adams said she enforces this ordinance and another law that bans sleeping in a park, but she said that hasn't solved the problem. Police spokeswoman Jill Wieneke said this proposal would be a preventative measure.

"It's 10 times easier — from a law enforcement standpoint — to prevent the problem in these parks, instead of people going to the park, getting drunk and then arresting them," she said.

Business owners near Flat Branch Park formed one of the groups that complained to the city.

Dawn Hessler manages a Phillips 66 gas station next to the park. She said she often finds empty bottles and  makeshift campsites in the small woods behind the station.

"It's almost to the point where it's scary to go down to the park," she said, speaking from personal experience.

This proposal looks like a double standard to Steve Jacobs, a volunteer at St. Francis House. He said he feels the city turns a blind eye when college students drink.

If the city wants to get serious about solving this problem, they should help fund substance abuse programs and regulate cheap drinks with high alcohol content, Jacobs said.

"Addicts are going to find places to go and drink, no matter what the legal prohibitions are," Jacobs said.

The city council is expected to vote on the issue in about two months, according to Sgt. Chris Kelly with the Columbia Police Department.

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Ray Shapiro August 2, 2010 | 7:06 p.m.

Village Square Park is right next to First Christian Church's Children's Playground, Paquin Park is right next to Lee Elementary's Schoolyard and places undue stress on the at-risk, vulnerable residents at Paquin Tower, especially those who use the wheelchair accessible gardens, and Flat Branch is close to the Chamber of Commerce/Visitor's Center.
These are a good places to start a ban on "nuisance" drinking and behaviors from transients and homeless-types in our city parks.

Perhaps we should also have a few designated "booze and camaraderie" green spaces for the homeless to "do their thing." Let's say part of the old Crane Property or around Phillips Lake? As long as there's no real criminal activity going on beyond noise and drinking in a public park, shouldn't the homeless transients have a park to play in as well? After all, we let our dogs run wild and swim in certain park locations, don't we? Shouldn't we also have a few spots for those who are a little rough around the edges?

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez August 2, 2010 | 8:34 p.m.

It will be so nice to see this proposal passed. It has been a very long time coming for the downtown area.

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