Seattle’s Community Police Commission is recommending that the city allow public drinking in some designated areas. The goal is to reduce unequal enforcement, in which citations are handed out disproportionately to black and Native American people.

Share story

Seattle’s Community Police Commission wants the city to allow public drinking in designated areas as a way to reduce unequal enforcement.

The commission says the areas would operate somewhat like bring-your-own-bottle beer gardens and would help police issue fewer public-drinking citations.

Those citations are handed out disproportionately in Seattle to black and Native American people, according to an analysis the commission released Friday.

Police sent 637 alcohol-related public-consumption citations to Seattle Municipal Court between Jan. 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014, according to the analysis. That’s fewer than 400 per year, way down from years ago. The cops issued 2,616 in 2004.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

But black and Native American people continue to be disproportionately cited, the analysis found: 23 percent of those cited were black and 13 percent were Native American, though they make up 8 and 1 percent of the population, respectively.

Most people cited for alcohol-related infractions in the 20-month period were men ages 46 to 55, according to the analysis. Many of them were cited in downtown Seattle during daylight hours in the spring and summer months.

“People experiencing homelessness (many of whom are people of color) are disproportionately impacted by public-consumption citations … because they do not have access to private space,” the commission says in a policy paper recommending the designated drinking areas and other, related strategies.

Seattle police have trouble handling problems related to public drinking, according to the commission. Officers usually respond by trying to educate people and asking them to dispose of their alcohol. When someone is drinking in a park, officers can issue an order banning them for 24 hours. Finally, officers can hand out a citation. They usually provide several warnings before taking that step, according to the commission.

“While these responses work toward addressing public consumption, issuing citations and park-exclusion orders are in the end an ineffective tool,” the commission says in its 10-page policy paper. “Lack of follow-ups regarding unpaid citations … and recurring incidents at parks signal a failure to address these issues as a community.”

The commission says the city should adopt an exception to the existing municipal code to allow for the designated public-drinking areas; 18 other cities in the U.S. have similar exceptions, according to the commission.

The designated drinking sites need not be outside, on public property, commission co-chair Lisa Daugaard said in an interview. They could be inside on private property as well, she said.

The policy paper mentions as a potential model the Pine Street Inn shelter in Boston, which at one point had an outdoor area for drinking shielded from public view, according to the commission.

“In this designated space clients could possess and consume alcohol, even though alcohol was prohibited inside the shelter. Individuals drinking there did not receive citations from Boston police because it was on private property,” the paper says.

Officers confronting people causing problems while drinking in public would be able to direct those people to a BYOB beer garden, Daugaard said.

Mayor Ed Murray didn’t respond to a request for comment about the proposal Friday. The Downtown Seattle Association declined to comment.

The commission also is recommending safe-consumption areas where users would be allowed to inject and smoke drugs, including marijuana, under medical supervision. Local groups are already working to open such sites in Seattle.

In 2014, a Seattle police report showed black people were being disproportionately cited in Seattle for consuming pot in public.

Finally, the commission is recommending the city consider allowing some homeless shelters and sanctioned homeless encampments to permit drinking and drug use.

The commission is a temporary body created in a 2012 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice requiring reforms to curb the use of excessive force by officers and biased policing.