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A law that would make it illegal to consume or possess an open container of alcohol in public would help Salt Lake police deal with problems that occur around such places as Pioneer Park.

But it also would technically mean that a person who pops open a beer in his or her yard and then steps out on the sidewalk is breaking the law.Salt Lake police want to outlaw possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages in public places - without shutting down alcohol sales or use at festive events such as the Arts Festival, the State Fair and block parties.

After more than a year of tinkering and review, the city may have come up with an ordinance that makes that distinction.

Police say the law gives them one more tool to deal with the kinds of problems that occur around such places as Pioneer Park.

State law prohibits possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles. Most cities' ordinances prohibit possession of alcohol in public parks. The cities also have laws against disorderly conduct and public intoxication.

Apparently only two other Utah cities and one county have laws similar to the one Salt Lake City is considering that would make consumption of or possession of open containers of alcohol illegal in other public places.

Salt Lake police say they need a tool to stop a person imbibing alcohol before he or she becomes obviously intoxicated.

"There's nothing like this that just says you can't walk down the street with a beer in hand or Thunderbird in a brown bag," said Salt Lake City Attorney Roger Cutler.

That's why, in Salt Lake City, people quaff alcohol openly on public streets near Pioneer Park, for instance, and police merely keep an eye on them.

Police want to be able to nip problems before drinking drives them out of control.

"Places where we have public drinking to any degree are places where we have problems," said Salt Lake police Lt. Jim Jensen.

The Police Department first proposed an ordinance prohibiting public consumption of alcohol more than a year ago. That ordinance was rejected because it was too restrictive.

"There's always been this concern that it might sweep within its coverage areas of activities we didn't want to criminalize," Cutler said.

That includes events such as the Arts Festival, programs at the Gallivan Center and block parties. The city also drafted the law with its Olympic bid in mind.

The Police Department has come up with a more refined ordinance, which will be reviewed by the City Council July 5. The department reviewed laws in other states before coming up with its "middle ground" ordinance.

As drafted, the open container ordinance makes it a Class C misdemeanor to consume, open or possess an open container of alcohol in public.

"This means that possession of open cups of beer, bottles of beer (and) cans of beer are prohibited while a person is in public areas," a memo to the council describing the ordinance states.

The ordinance makes exceptions for places that are licensed by the city to sell beer or alcohol or events for which a special permit is issued that specifically allows alcohol consumption.

"What we don't want to have happen is to take away from legitimate events we have take place in Salt Lake City," said Mayor Deedee Corradini. "My hope is that it does give police a tool to help with some of the problems we have on the streets today."

The proposed law is softer than one used by San Francisco - which prohibits alcohol within 15 feet of public property - and tougher than other states' laws that require police prove intent to consume the beverage.

But at least one City Council member - Tom Godfrey - has questioned whether the city really needs another law on the books. Godfrey says police may be able to address problems through better enforcement of existing laws.



Watch where you drink

A check of 14 areas in Utah shows three have specific laws that deal with drinking in public places.

- In Logan, it is illegal to possess a container of alcohol in a public place with the intent of drinking the beverage, whether or not the container is open.

- In Summit County, it is illegal to consume or possess an open container of alcohol in a public building, public or private parking lot or any other area open to the public for assembly. The ordinance was passed in 1991. It's aimed primarily at problems caused by concertgoers who arrive several hours before a concert, sit in a parking lot and drink.

- In Midvale, it is against the law to drink an alcoholic beverage or be under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or other substance in any public place, including public buildings, streets, alleys, sidewalks, etc. Alcohol may be consumed in public areas that have been issued special single-event permits.