Dear PoPville – Public Drinking Problems

Photo by PoPville flickr user AWard Tour

“Dear PoPville,

I was at the Columbia Heights metro the other day and witnessed a few guys sitting out in the open clearly drinking liquor and beer right outside the busy metro in broad daylight. The more shocking thing is that there were police officers standing no more than 30 feet away. This occurs with more frequency and an apparent lack of fear for consequences all along fairly busy sections of Georgia Avenue outside liquor stores and sometimes just steps from the police sub-station on Park Road. They don’t even feel the need to use a Solo Cup (which is a joke but is a mild attempt to hide it).

I completely understand the challenges and ‘real’ crimes that the police have to deal with, but it seems that this low level of enforcement just breads larger problems where folks don’t think twice about breaking the law. Am I missing something here?”

138 Comment

  • What happened when you walked 30 whole feet over to the cop and talked to him about whether he was aware of it and why he wasn’t enforcing the law? Oh no, wait, you didn’t do that, you went home and whined on a blog.

    • I like your style.

    • Boom goes the dynamite.

    • Why do you feel the need to be so rude?

    • You seem to miss the point of the post. Granted they should have probably said something to the cop, but this happens all the time in that area and around the city

      • Maybe part of why it continues to happen is that nobody either a) brings it to the attention of the police, or b) holds the police accountable for actually *enforcing* the law when they appear to be too lazy or disinterested to do so.

        • Exactly. There are plenty of people that complain when laws ARE enforced, so add your voice when laws AREN’T enforced.

      • The point of the post, as it’s written, is that police should be paying attention to the little things so that larger problems are less likely to exist. But I think the point that Anobvious is making is that the responsibility should fall on all the individuals within a neighborhood. I’m not trying to give the cops a pass here, but I agree that the person posting this question should be held accountable for addressing what he/she feels is not right. Saying “it happens all the time..” just continues pattern when someone else walks by other groups like this. If you’ve got an issue with something, and can do something about it (such as walk 30 feet out of your way to tell the cops), do it. Don’t bitch about it later online.

        • The problem is what CAN they do? We have that problem in Bloomingdale on 1st street. We call the cops periodically, but they just shoo them away and when the cops leave, they come back, making fun of how stupid it was for the cops to have done it in the first place.

          The guys just hang out there ALL friggen day long (like it’s their job). I’ve come to know a lot of them over the years and I’m like “what do you do all day while my ass is stuck at work??” They usually laugh and say something like “that’s your problem” (in a joking way), and they mean it. They don’t want to work and in many cases they are so addicted to alcohol that they couldn’t do anything anyways.

          I know it’s not the ultimate solution, but a big first step is to pressure these damn liquor stores to ban single sales.

    • hahahahahaha….

      Hilarious, and sadly true. We’re raising an entire generation of people who can only communicate to other people two dimensionally. So sad

    • The same thing that happened when I walked up the WMATA Transit Police officer and asked why he was letting people eat and drink on the train.

      “You enforce it,” they said.

      My advice…buy guns and start enforcing it ourselves, the police have very blatantly said they refuse to do so.

    • I like the comeback Anobvious. But I personally would not approach a cop to tell him or her that someone is drinking alcohol in public unless the person is drunk or behaving in a dangerous way. It’s not that big of a deal to me. I certainly don’t see getting in a cop’s face about enforcing the law – at least not for this. I would have noted the time and place of the incident and contacted the MPD Commander responsible for the area to bring it to his or her attention, particularly if this is an ongoing problem, which the original poster suggests it is.

  • The horror!

    Another area where Europe bests us: acceptance of public drinking. Seriously, what is the difference in drinking outdoors at a restaurant/bar and doing this? Are outdoor patio zoning regulations and fences seriously all that’s keeping society from collapsing under the weight of the rogue public drinker?

    • Public drinking? Meh. Public drunkenness? Meh. Homeless drunks pissing on my neighbors garage in the alley? Then I tell the cops.

      • Oh, boo. Urine is sterile, and outdoors doesn’t stink too much. Plus, the phosphorus content is like getting free fertilizer!

        • Really? What’s you address? I’ll come pee on your front steps every day and we’ll see if you change your tune.

          If you’d ever lived in a situation where this kind of activity is part of the neighborhood fabric, I don’t think you would have such a naive outlook on it.

        • “Doesn’t stink?” Has no one walked past the alley between the 7-11 and the Health Center? I’ll give you a dollar for every minute you stand in there– the urine stench is awful!

        • Your nose don’t work.

        • “In 1626 England’s King Charles I commanded his subjects to “carefully and constantly keep and preserve in some convenient vessels or receptacles fit for the purpose, all the urine of man during the whole year, and all the stale of beasts which they can save” to be donated to the saltpeter plantations.

          Massachusetts Bay Colony also required every large farm to erect a nitre shed.

          This was more for gunpowder than fertilizer, but the same basic stuff.

          (Quote from The Alchemy of Air.)

          • You want to save your own urine (or invite drunks to pee on your house/lawn), be my guest.

            That doesn’t make public urination OK. And when people pee in alleys, the phosphorus content is providing no benefit other than maybe to the weeds sprouting between the bricks.

          • Oh, and also King Charles I eventually got beheaded.



      • Yes, what’s the big deal about public drinking?!?!!? Public drunkenness is another story.

    • “Europe” doesn’t exactly ignore the problem of troublesome public drinking – and can differentiate between safe and worrisone public consumption…

    • You’ve clearly not spent enough time in DC.

      Europe is full of idiots.

    • Yeah, we’re the “free-est” country in the world, but in so many ways other countries allow a lot more personal freedom.

    • The difference is that if you’re at a sidewalk cafe, your waiter/waitress is (in theory) monitoring how much you consume. I’ve never had so many drinks with lunch or dinner that a server has cut me off, but I’ve seen it happen to nearby dining guests. If you’re on the corner drinking a liter of vodka out of a brown paper bag, you’re getting a lot more than a legitimate sidewalk cafe would ever serve you, and you’re doing it with no social supervision. I have no problem with someone drinking in public and think it’s silly to throw a fit over someone having a cocktail on their own stoop, but getting sloshed and bothering people crosses a line.

  • There was a dude just chuggin’ a 40 oz of Colt 45 in the seat in front of me on the 70 bus the other day. That was pretty brazen. I would think the bus driver would have yelled at him, but the driver didn’t say anything.

    • I have often thought about chugging a 40 on the 70 bus and came to the conclusion no one would say anything to me. I guess i was right.

    • JL, the Metro bus driver probably was afraid to say anything. Many Metro bus drivers have been attacked, fired, or shot for saying anything to these ‘savages’. I wouldn’t say anything to them either in fear for my life.

  • I’m not sure if there is a verified causal link between public drinking (not public intoxication, just merely drinking in the public space) and crime.

    Question, have you ever consumed alcohol in public? Did you then go and rob someone? Just wondering.

    • I’ve actually had those “harmless drunks” yelling and threatening me as I walk by a group on the street.

      • Did they harm you?

        • Making threats is a class of assault, so if anonymous 12:49 was legitimately threatened (e.g., I’m gonna beat you up), then yes, he/she was harmed.

        • Seriously that is your response? I am a female and it scared the S%*^ out of me. So if somebody threatens to rape you it is ok as long as they don’t follow through?

        • Does it matter? It’s illegal.

          22-407. Threats to do bodily harm.

          Whoever is convicted in the District of threats to do bodily harm shall be fined not more than $500 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, in addition thereto, or in lieu thereof, may be required to give bond to keep the peace for a period not exceeding 1 year.

          • saf

            I wish it were taken seriously.

            One night (a long time ago), my neighbor’s addict/drunk brother tried to beat down my door, screaming that he would kill me, because I would not give him money/a drink/cigarettes.

            911 said they couldn’t do anything as nobody had been injured.

    • There is. Cracking down on subway fare evasion, public drinking, urination, and the “squeegee men” were part of the tools Guliani and the police used to clean up NYC. According to the 2001 study of crime trends in New York by George Kelling and William Sousa,[3] rates of both petty and serious crime fell suddenly and significantly, and continued to drop for the following ten years.

      • It’s a nice theory, but apparently you didn’t see the movie Freakonomics. It’s been completely debunked. Several times over (outside of Freakonomics).

  • Disclaimer: I don’t think public intoxication laws deserve the time of day, but here are some thoughts:

    – Did you think to inform those officers? They might not have seen it… And sometimes cops won’t do anything if it clearly isn’t offending anyone.

    – Don’t you have anything better to do during the day than worry about people drinking BEER in public? Six people were SHOT last night in D.C., so clearly MPD has bigger fish to fry than public drinking.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I think there is a difference between public drinking and public intoxication. I find the latter can be a serious quality of life issue. I’ve had some unpleasant experiences along Park Rd towards Mt. Pleasant.

    • “I think there is a difference between public drinking and public intoxication”

      I agree, but I wonder, would we define the walk home from [local pub name here] after some hard drinking as ‘public intoxication’? It certainly fits the description: drunk in public.

      Or does there need to be an additional layer of ‘public nuisance’ or some kind of public endangerment?

      What bugs me here is that I can’t even legally (according to a cop who told me to put it away) enjoy a glass of wine on my own front porch, but these guys can get hammered at the metro.

      • I was thinking about this after last Saturday night. Seriously, the single biggest problem I have with my stretch of 13th Street is young white people who drink too much at house parties and then walk down my sidewalk, shouting to each other and saying “fuck” three times in every sentence. There is seriously no category of people more obnoxious and annoying than half-drunk upper-middle class white people in their 20s.

        No, this isn’t a stabbing or a mugging. It doesn’t result in a yard full of chicken bones. This isn’t a serious crime but it’s frequently a nuisance. Most of these late night drinkers are heading back to their cars and driving off into the night. Meanwhile they’re waking up the kids, the neighbors — just fundamentally disrespecting their surroundings.

        • +1 – there’s more than enough blame on this one to go around. Try living in an apartment building where the entitled, yet idiotic residents assume that they’ve transferred their college dorm to a residential apt. building in DC. I think the idea of modulating voice volume has become extinct among a lot of new residents in this city.

        • You’re right, it’s only the white kids. (/sarcasm)

      • That cop was wrong. Drinking on your front porch is specifically protected by the DC Code. It used to be illegal to drink on your front porch if it projected into the poublic area (parking), which is the way many house in DC are built. A lady got arrested for it, and CM Carol Schwartz ammended the law to explicity allow porch drinking.

        DC Code § 25-1001. Drinking of alcoholic beverage in public place prohibited; intoxication prohibited.
        (a) Except as provided in subsections (b) and (c) of this section, no person in the District shall drink an alcoholic beverage or possess in an open container an alcoholic beverage in or upon any of the following places:
        1. A street, alley, park, sidewalk, or parking area;
        2. A vehicle in or upon any street, alley, park, or parking area;
        (b) Subsection (a)(1) of this section shall not apply if drinking or possession of an alcoholic beverage occurs:
        (1) In or on a structure which projects upon the parking, and which is an integral, structural part, of a private residence, such as a front porch, terrace, bay window, or vault; and
        (2) By, or with the permission of, the owner or resident.

  • houseintherear

    I’m sorry, but of all the horrible issues in our city that need to change, public drinking is not on my list of priorities. Who cares!

    • When they’re pissing all the time on the side of your house, you’ll probably feel differently.

      Yes, there are bigger fish to fry in DC, but does that mean we completely ignore other quality of life issues?

      Where is your line for when the police should start enforcing laws? Murder? Rape? Drug dealing? …and everything below that line is now just to be considered harmless shenanigans?

    • You’re absolutely wrong. Most of the problems in DC can be traced back to drunk/high people making babies and then abusing them their whole lives.

      It’s damn hard to find a job when you’re drunk all the time.

    • Sad…

      Over and over again I find it amazing that small crimes are just passed over and accepted as “life in the city” for this BLOG.

      Most often those who disagree are just soundly critized as naive and so on. “Life in the City, Move to the country, more important issues…”

      Broken Windows… Bring it to DC.

      • ++++++++10000000000000

      • The thing about broken windows is that it’s not just citing certain people for public drinking, it’s citing EVERY person for EVERY misdemeanor. So unless you’re ready to be ticketed for eating or drinking on the Metro, not coming to a full stop on your bike at every light and stop sign, letting your dog offleash anywhere outside of a designated dogpark, not putting your trash bin back behind the fence within 12 hours after the garbage has been collected, littering, etc., broken windows may not be that great of a deal. People tend to like these no tolerance policies until they get caught on the wrong side of them.

        • I’m ready… DC desperately needs law enforcment who actually enforce all laws – not just the big ones.

          As Mayor Fenty used to say, “Results Matter.”

          Isn’t that what all the chest thumping from Guiliani was about.

          “Broken Windows” works.

  • Yes, I was in a hurry but you are right I should’ve said something to the officers. The problem is this goes on all the time. I don’t care all that much if somebody is drinking (though it is against the law) but PoP makes a good point, the intoxication and what goes along with it is a quality of life issue.

    I do wonder if I set up a few chairs with my friends outside the CH metro and proceed to open a 12 of Yuengling during the day, will we get a ticket?

  • Sometimes Popville surprises me.. I would have expected less “did you go home and whine about it on a blog” sentiment from ppl who come to this site for this kind of story.

  • Seriously that is your response? I am a female and it scared the S%*^ out of me. So if somebody threatens to rape you it is ok as long as they don’t follow through?

    • oops should’ve been posted above

    • “So if somebody threatens to rape you it is ok as long as they don’t follow through?”

      No, it is definitely not OK. Next time call the cops. The Law:

      D.C. Code § 22-3005: Fourth degree sexual abuse.

      A person shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years and, in addition, may be fined in an amount not to exceed $50,000, if that person engages in or causes sexual contact with or by another person in the following manner:

      (1) By threatening or placing that other person in reasonable fear (other than by threatening or placing that other person in reasonable fear that any person will be subjected to death, bodily injury, or kidnapping)

  • This isn’t Nam. This is DC. There are rules.

  • Why aren’t we cool like New Orleans?

  • Let me introduce you to The Wire and the history of the brown bag:

  • 4th of July about 5 years ago a friend of mine stepped off the porch and onto the sidewalk to look at a new motorcycle. We didn’t even think about having our (first and only) beers in hand.

    In under a minute, no joke, an car screeches up, undercover officers in vests jump out, slam us up against the retaining wall, take our belts and shoelaces, and throw us into a following squad car. We spend the next 6 hours in jail, and I still wonder if this is on my records.

    I’m just saying, be careful what you wish for.

    • That. would. SUCK!

    • For real? At this year’s Capital Pride parade, just about every other person was wandering around along the streets with an open container, and the police simply looked the other way.

      • I find this very hard to believe based upon personal experience. The alcoholic beverages provided by the event/sponsors are only sold in an area cordoned offed by chain link fence and the entrance/exit is heavily guarded by staff – you cannot go in or out with a drink, only stay inside. Maybe you saw people had open containers of non-alcoholic beverages, or beverages they brought from home? Still, I don’t recall rampant alcohol consumption on the street at Capitol Pride. Sorry…

        • There were lots of parties in homes near the parade route, and many of these parties ended up spilling out into the streets. From my perspective, the police clearly had more important matters to attend to. There were plenty of people drinking beer in plastic cups around 14th Street..

    • In my hometown (population 10,000) this is quite common. The town has more cops than it knows what to do with and they circle the bars all evening long. As soon as anyone walks out they watch them like a hawk to see if they can be picked up for public intoxication, even if they’ve had just one drink! It’s ridiculous. I know for a fact that they keep a tally of who has had made the most arrest each year. I’d rather have the cops more lenient like they are in DC than too hyper-vigilient like in my hometown.

  • I love it that all of this discussion is about poor people on the streets drinking, when the real obnoxious, violent and dangerous public drunks are all GWU and Georgetown students, and your occasional serviceman on a bender.

    • real obnoxious..maybe..but real violent and dangerous public drunks? I’m sure there are a few drunks around DC that aren’t taking micro 101 form GU/GWU.

  • How uptight you have to be to be upset about people drinking in public? We should be upset that it is still illegal. It’s a law that makes no sense. And if the only problem is where people pee, just fine people for peeing in public instead of for drinking in public.

  • What bothers me even more is that a nice public space has been taken over and made unusable to the city and neighborhood.
    Is there not a loitering law that would require the cops could enforce?

    Arguing which law breaker (those at the Metro or college kids) is worse is like arguing about which pile of crap smells worse. They are both crap and should be punished equally.

    • I’m still wishing for the day they enforce the littering law in that Plaza. I’d like to blame it mostly on idiot teenagers, but I saw a grown woman throw down an enormous receipt there clearly on purpose just yesterday. (Which I of course then picked up and threw away into the trash can approximately 3 feet away.) *Sigh.*

      This plaza is truly in a sad state. My friend sometimes waits there for me when we are going to meet up to go to Tynan and I receive texts saying “hurry up I’m going to get shanked!!!” due to the creepers.

    • Agreed. That plaza is disgusting, and it’s creepy and unpleasant to walk through no matter what time of day it is.

  • Having traveled extensively throughout Europe I can say that modern Western Europeans: Are less religious than Americans; are better drivers than Americans; seem to be able to stay out of wars better than Americans; consume less and produce less waste than Americans; save a greater percentage of their income than Americans; enjoy considerably more vacation time than Americans; pay less for mobile phone service and internet than Americans; travel abroad more than Americans; enjoy greater freedom of the press than Americans; have better health insurance coverage than Americans; pay far less to attend universities than Americans; have better public transportation networks than Americans; speak more languages than Americans; benefit from much lower violent crime rates than Americans; have longer life spans and lower incidences of substance abuse than Americans; are less obese overall than Americans; spend far less on defense than Americans; assume less personal debt than Americans; and, in my experience, tend to be more rational people overall than Americans.

    How is Europe full of idiots, exactly?

    • This was supposed to be a reply to Anonymouse @ 1:04 PM.

      • Attempt to create massive tangential debate regarding the superiority of European culture deemed:

        • In case you didn’t read, my statement was meant to be a reply to Anonymous ! 1:04 PM, who wrote:

          “You’ve clearly not spent enough time in DC.

          Europe is full of idiots.”

      • Yeah you are definitely American since you cannot correctly use the internet.

    • But clearly can’t keep their finances in line, cause their entire economy – and the world’s economy – to implode. So they suck at that.

      • They also suck at homogenizing cultures.

        My point is, let’s not glorify them. Everyone has their faults.

        • With regard to the economy situation, I think that numerous factors contributed to the meltdown, but the U.S. housing market collapse and mortgage fiasco were the primary ones. Most European countries did not experience the housing bubble collapse because they never had a housing boom. Ireland and Spain were notable exceptions and they are currently reeling from the consequences.

          If you take a look at debt as a percentage of GDP, the U.S. debt is 93% of GDP, which is really a very high number. Greece is in crisis because debt is 116% of GDP and growing, but the problem there is greater due to the much smaller scale (and nature) of their economy. Iceland debt is at 130% of GDP, Italy at 118%, Belgium at 100% and Ireland at 94%. These are therefore some of the weakest countries in Europe.

          Our debt problem is nearly as bad as that in the above countries, but it doesn’t *look* quite so bad. Our economy is so large and diversified that it can withstand some financial shocks that would cripple smaller countries, but it is still in very bad shape. Hence the first downgrading of the U.S. credit rating in history.

          You’re absolutely right about homogenization of cultures. And, definitely, every culture has faults. Many Germans would probably prefer to keep the Doner Kebabs but kick out the Turkish people rather than deal with integration properly.

          I could make a list of ways in which America is better than Europe, or problems experienced by European countries, but I really wasn’t trying to start some big debate.

          Although…The UK does have a big youth alcoholism problem, Italy’s justice system is a bit of a joke, and Albania is full of stolen cars imported by the mafia.

      • Do you not remember when the US caused the Great Recession in 07-08? Please tell me you remember that….

    • ah

      History shows that Europeans got into a lot more wars than the U.S. As you may recall, we had to bail certain European countries out of at least a couple of wars in which more people were killed in a day than have been killed in 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      • Yeah, up until the 1950s the Europeans were constantly fighting. There has been a big shift in Europe towards peace and non-aggression since WW2. Since then, apart from wars for independence, Europe has been very peaceful.

        Don’t forget that the French helped us out a bit back during the Rev War.

  • How else am I supposed to know if I got off the correct metro stop if there isn’t some guy passed out in front of Potbellys at CH at 5:45pm, laying in a pool of his own urine?

    Honestly, I use it as wayfinding. I follow the smell of piss and hobos home.

    • Yeah I feel a little bad for Pete’s– they can’t get anyone to sit outside at the sidewalk area they pay for because it is totally unusable due to the urine smell.

      • This area in particular challenges the whole “if you build it, they will come” notion that everybody wanted to believe in when DCUSA and all the surrounding development was being planned. If anything, the area has more nuisance crime than ever.

        • no it isn’t. while there are problems, people have flocked to that hood since dcusa.

          there was nothing there before.

  • Some of you may be shocked to know that it used to be legal to consume alcohol on The Mall. Every year on July 4, thousands of people got wasted, and all sorts of debauchery ensued. I think it was the early ’90s when the city put a stop to that.

    • Heh, we used to roll down with a sofa, a keg and 2 watermelons soaked with grain alki and a boatload of food. We’d set up 50 feet from a portajohn, and drink away.

      Then we’d stroll over to teh smoke out, toke up, and stroll back for the fireworks. We would sit down there for hours after the firweworks ended – chilling the nite away.

      But we were good folks – we took the keg, sofa and our garbage with us when we rolled out.

      Yes, i am old. No, I do not mind.

      • I remember that sofa! And those watermelons! Your child is about to graduate high school – want to meet him?

  • “I completely understand the challenges and ‘real’ crimes that the police have to deal with, but it seems that this low level of enforcement just breads larger problems where folks don’t think twice about breaking the law. Am I missing something here?”

    The ability to spell breed. Sometime I enjoy drinking outside. I don’t think that drinking outside breeds bigger crime. These people have given up on life, just let them do their thing.

  • What annoys me most is that the law isn’t enforced uniformly. If you aren’t going to arrest the people drunkenly loitering and yelling at passersby outside of a metro station, don’t arrest my buddy walking through Capitol Hill with a red cup, on his first drink of the night.

  • A lot of fragile people seem to be up in arms about URINE showing up on their doorsteps and sidewalks. Here’s my few cents…first of all, urine is really not that serious, what you are smelling around 7-11 is a plethora of things and not solely urine. Urine cannot possibly smell THAT bad. Second of all, animals urinate all the time, EVERYWHERE and yet you don’t demand their imprisonment. Third of all, a lot of establishments have banned the homeless and others who are not purchasing anything at their establishments, from using their bathrooms. So where are these homeless and others who are no where near home supposed to urinate? I’m not saying that it’s ok to piss on people’s doorsteps, but I am sure that this issue is being exaggerated. Hello…the bathrooms at Meridian Hill have been locked for God knows how long and so may be if we had more public restrooms, home and property owners wouldn’t have to cry a river on the blogsphere. I know that homeless people traumatize you, but understand this, most of us are only a couple of paychecks away from being homeless. Complaining about homeless, poor people and alcoholics who have a real disease does not help anything. Some of you should think about changing these things with charitable social actions rather than spoiled complaints. I know this issue of public drinking is quite traumatizing for some fragile people who shop at Harris Teeter and only eat organic apples, but this is a city after all. And I realize you were raised in the suburbs and now you feel cool to live in a city, but just because you landed here on your royal spaceship, does not mean the city has to behave like Potomac, Maryland. If you live near bars and night life, then guess what? There will be drunk people passing your doorstep. Sorry but a friend of a friend of mine was shot in DC, randomly on Halloween, meanwhile police are raiding hemp stores and people are rallying about urine on sidewalks and homeless people drinking beer in front of white people. My co-worker had a son murdered years ago and like many of the homicides in DC, his murder goes unsolved. Bigger fish to fry. Keep the police working on more serious issues. Try being a police officer, it is a VERY STRESSFUL job and they have a lot on their plates. I am sure a few beer drinkers is not something they have time for, especially being an officer in a major metropolitan city that happens to be the nations capital.

  • Great call on the Wire vid on how a paper bag is a good compromise: “That small, wrinkled-ass paper bag allowed the corner boys to have their drink in peace, and gave us permission to go. and do. police work…the kind of police work that’s actually worth the effort.”

  • I had no idea the Green Line went all the way out to Squaresville. Circa 1919, no doubt.
    Deluxe wanker. This O’douls is for you…

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