While many who played at San Diego County’s beaches and bars partied without incident, police last year nabbed thousands whose boozy revelry made them … DRUNK IN PUBLIC

July 4, 2007 No Comments

Agust n Armendariz, Brooke Williams. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Jul 4, 2007. pg. B.1

CORRECTION: FOR THE RECORD | In a story Wednesday about people arrested for public drunkenness, the last name of San Diego police Lt. David Rohowits was misspelled as Rohowitz. The Union-Tribune regrets the error. (Jul. 6, 2007, B-2)

Throwing back frosty beverages on the Fourth of July is as American as apple pie, but a look at when and where police picked up people last year for public drunkenness suggests San Diegans don’t need a holiday or a sunny beach as an excuse to let loose.

For most of the millions of tourists and residents who drank one too many, the party ended with a heavy head on a pillow. But for a small percentage of the sloshed, it got ugly.

From San Ysidro to Oceanside and most places in-between, police arrested 7,073 people — an average of 19 a day — whom they deemed were intoxicated in public, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune analysis of countywide arrest records. Many arrests were in areas known for night life and with a high concentration of bars and clubs.

Police arrested the most — 44 — on Aug. 26. On July 4, they picked up 34. The top months were July and September, most commonly between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Saturday.

Despite the long-standing debate over banning alcohol on the sand in Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach — the only beaches in the city of San Diego without restricted areas — police picked up more carousers downtown than they did in these coastal neighborhoods last year.

Police made 676 arrests downtown, and it wasn’t just on days when the Padres hosted the Dodgers. The peak came in May 2006, when the team was on the road.

In San Diego’s beach neighborhoods, the peak came in September, as college students returned to class and summer unofficially ended.

Few are prosecuted

To be sure, there are many reasons for these statistics beyond just when and where people get smashed. Among them are the size and population of an area, the number of tourists, how many police officers are on patrol and the number and density of bars. Also, “drunk in public” is just one of many types of alcohol-related arrests.

Countywide, San Diego chalked up the bulk of the public drunkenness arrests — 1,236 downtown and in the neighborhoods of Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach — but there were also hundreds in Carlsbad, Escondido and El Cajon.

Few of these offenders were prosecuted, unless another crime was involved, such as assault, police said. For the most part, they arrested rowdy revelers to get them off the street and sober them up.

Lt. David Rohowitz, a 25-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, said there are booze-induced blunders basically every Friday and Saturday night in the Gaslamp Quarter. As more people call downtown home, he said, the cops hear more complaints.

Pinching the pickled

On weekend nights, police have a prisoner van in the Gaslamp Quarter. It has two bright, white compartments that each hold seven to 10 people and often reek of sweat, urine and vomit. Officers cruise around all night, sometimes with arrestees inside, stopping off twice at the jail and a sobering center.

Many of those who end up in the van are arrested under the state’s drunk-in-public law, Rohowitz said, which applies to people who are so intoxicated they can’t care for themselves or others.

Rohowitz said they don’t pick up just anyone who is wasted.

“Some people get drunk and get happy and silly, other people get drunk and get mad and ugly,” he said. The people who get hauled in are the ones “stumbling, getting into fights, vomiting on the sidewalk, passing out and not able to stand.”

That’s usually true, some defense attorneys say, but not always the case.

Tom Matthews, a senior partner at Liberty Lawyers, a criminal- defense firm downtown, said he has found that police sometimes use the law to punish people who smell of alcohol and are giving them attitude.

“Mouthing off to the cops, … you can count on taking a trip to the drunk tank, even if you’re not drunk,” he said.

Rohowitz said that’s certainly not something they condone.

“I’m not silly enough to say that has never happened,” he said.

After last call this past Saturday night, Rohowitz and other officers stood on E Street near Fifth Avenue and watched as a flood of 25-to-30-somethings staggered onto sidewalks and spilled onto the streets. It was balmy, wafting a mixture of car exhaust, cigarette smoke and vomit.

Some clubbers drew the officers’ attention with what looked like posturing before a fight. For the most part, the officers just watched as partyers were carried to cabs by their friends.

People arrested end up in one of two places. If they can stagger on their own, and aren’t combative or injured, they’ll probably end up in a sobering center. Otherwise, it’s a “drunk tank” in jail.

Midnight hour

In Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, police arrested 560 people deemed drunk in public last year — six on the Fourth of July. That’s a fraction of the millions who visited the beaches.

Some whom police arrested were on the sand, but many were on streets around bars. The peak time for public drunkenness in those three neighborhoods was the midnight hour, when alcohol already is prohibited on the sand.

Sgt. Tom Wood, a 21-year veteran of the Police Department who supervises Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, said San Diego is one of the last cities in the country that allows alcohol on some of its beaches — a privilege he said is nice to have. But banning booze on the sand would result in a lot less work for him, Wood said, because teenagers can’t drink at bars and bartenders usually won’t serve someone who is about ready to pass out.

Wood offered a word of advice for those planning to get smashed as part of today’s festivities: “If you get our attention in a negative way, and you’re intoxicated, you’re probably going to be arrested.”

Beach Laws

Police often cite people for violating these rules on the Fourth:

* No kegs are allowed today. Police have a special tool to dump them.

* No drinking before noon or after 8 p.m.

* No glass bottles

* No smoking on the sand, sea wall or boardwalk. Police said they will no longer give warnings.

* No indoor furniture

* No saving parking spaces

* No alcohol at any time on beaches in Del Mar and La Jolla

If you get a citation, you might avoid criminal charges by participating in Beach Area Community Court. For information, call the City Attorney’s Office at (858)-273-3050.

HOW TO NOT END UP IN THE “DRUNK TANK”

* Don’t draw attention to yourself by yelling, fighting or breaking things.

* If police or residents ask you to leave, do it.

* Drink water, eat food and pace yourself with the booze.

* Chill out and be respectful.
[Illustration]
3 PICS | 2 CHARTS; Caption: 1. On weekend nights, San Diego police have a prisoner van in the Gaslamp Quarter. Officers made 676 arrests in downtown last year for public drunkenness. 2. “Some people get drunk and get happy and silly, other people get drunk and get mad and ugly,” San Diego police Lt. David Rohowitz said. 3. BEACH LAWS 4. HOW TO NOT END UP IN THE “DRUNK TANK” 5. San Diego police are a presence on weekends in the Gaslamp Quarter. Those arrested for public drunkenness are “stumbling, getting into fights, vomiting on the sidewalk, passing out and not able to stand,” a lieutenant said. [1,2,5. Jim Baird / Union-Tribune 3. Source: San Diego Police Department 4. Source: San Diego police officers]

Credit: STAFF WRITERS

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