Scottsdale Judge says state law prohibits arrests
by Beth Duckett- Feb. 6, 2012 09:22 PM The Republic | azcentral.com
A recent court ruling barring Scottsdale police from arresting rowdy drunk people in public has drawn a spotlight on a decades-old Arizona law that says cities and towns cannot enforce their own drunken-behavior laws.
The Dec. 20 ruling from Scottsdale City Judge James Blake has prompted residents, police officials and lawmakers to explore ways to counteract the ruling, which could open the door for local governments to adopt and enforce their own laws on public drunkenness.
Blake ruled that Scottsdale's code governing drunkenness is in violation of a state law that took effect in 1974, barring counties and municipalities from adopting or enforcing local laws related to intoxication.
Scottsdale is appealing the ruling. For now, police officers can no longer arrest or cite people heavily under the influence of alcohol in public whenthey pose a danger to themselves or others.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said local enforcement of drunkenness has been on the radar of several Arizona communities, particularly Winslow, Holbrook and Page, which are concerned about inebriated people on their streets.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, sponsored a bill this session that would have addressed some of the concerns.
Allen decided to hold off on a Senate committee vote on the bill after opponents brought up concerns.
Senate Bill 1082 proposes to, among other things, allow cities and counties to regulate drive-through liquor sales and the sales of beer in containers that are 40 ounces or larger.
“I'm still working on the bill — it isn't dead,” said Allen, who called it “wrong” not to allow communities to “solve particular local problems.”
In 2011, Allen sponsored Senate Bill 1177 that would have allowed municipalities to adopt and enforce their own intoxication laws. Senate leadership never scheduled it for a vote of the full Senate.
According to the Scottsdale city attorney, the ruling does not reverse prior convictions for public intoxication.
In a city known for its booming nightlife, neighbors and business owners are concerned that the ruling makes it harder for law enforcement to crack down on overly drunk revelers in the city's downtown-entertainment district.
The district, east of Scottsdale Road and south of Camelback Road, is heavily populated with nightclubs and bars, drawing revelers from across the Valley and from out of town.
“It would be a giant step backwards for our public-safety programs,” said Bill Crawford, a downtown resident and business owner who is president of the Association to Preserve Downtown Scottsdale's Quality of Life.
Phoenix spokeswoman Toni Maccarone said the city has a drunk-and-disorderly ordinance, which makes it a misdemeanor to be in a public place, street, alley or sidewalk in a drunk or disorderly condition.
City officials were not immediately available to comment on the state law's effects on Phoenix's ordinance.
Scottsdale's code on public drunkenness has been a “huge tool, especially in the downtown area,” said Jim Hill, president of the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association.
Sgt. Mark Clark, a Scottsdale police spokesman, said officers will not ignore people who are inebriated and pose a danger to themselves or others. Because disorderly-conduct and other laws still apply, officers can cite and arrest drunks if they are a nuisance, he noted.
“We're still concerned about the intoxicated people in the neighborhood,” Clark said. “We'll still respond.”
Republic reporter Ofelia Madrid contributed to this article.