Could looser liquor laws be coming to Casper?
As some residents may recall, the city’s open-container restrictions were briefly relaxed during the Wyoming Eclipse Festival last August. Festival attendees were permitted to carry alcoholic beverages along most of Second Street.
Councilwoman Kenyne Humphrey said at the time that she initially feared the looser rules would encourage some to act recklessly — but the then-mayor was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. Residents and visitors alike remained responsible, she explained.
“We might reevaluate how we handle alcohol [during events] in a small section of downtown,” Humphrey said.
Nearly a year later, council members are slated to discuss the issue during Tuesday’s work session.
Council members may not have made up their minds yet, but the Casper Police Department has already given the idea a thumbs-down.
Allowing open containers of alcohol downtown and in the Old Yellowstone District will aggravate the city’s existing problem with public drunkenness, according to a memo from Police Chief Keith McPheeters to City Manager Carter Napier.
“Research consistently shows that the absence of alcohol regulation tends to facilitate disturbing increases in crime and violence. The current regulation of open containers is an effective tool at reducing calls for police services, violence, and the related blight and debris associated with chronic alcohol abuse,” the memo states.
This is not the first time McPheeters has expressed concerns about the over-consumption of alcohol.
During a work session in February, the chief asked council members to recognize that the over-service of liquor is creating serious challenges for the city.
The chief explained that bar patrons who become overly intoxicated eventually leave the establishment and can then create problems for other residents and the police.
Fifty-nine percent of people in Casper who are booked into jail are intoxicated and almost half of all drivers arrested for DUIs are more than the twice the legal limit, according to McPheeters.
“As a community, I think there is room for us to improve,” he said.
Anything involving alcohol tends to spark a lively debate among council members. Just a few months ago, the Council passed an ordinance that increased the penalty for minors convicted of public intoxication or possession of alcohol to include an option for a jail sentence of up to six months.
Now that those crimes include the jail option, judges can legally sentence offenders to probation.
The ordinance’s intention is largely misunderstood, Vice Mayor Charlie Powell previously said.
“This isn’t about punishing,” he said, explaining that council members hope the threat of heavier consequences will motivate offenders to turn their life around.
Others on the Council, including Councilmen Shawn Johnson and Dallas Laird, strongly objected.
Johnson said he voted against the measure because he believes the legal drinking age should be lowered. By age 18, citizens are considered adults in every other sense of the word.
“I am not in favor of punishing adults for doing adult things. Change starts at the local level,” he said.