Originally created 07/30/01

Savannahians clash on need for new laws



SAVANNAH - For years, downtown Savannah residents have complained that the police were not visible enough.

With the recent to-go cup controversy, that same complaint has resurfaced, with some calling for the creation of new laws and others calling for the enforcement of existing ones.

Opponents of to-go cups say the presence of alcohol outside bars and clubs contributes to various violations from littering to public drunkenness and public urination. But proponents of the cups say that's not the case, that the same violations will occur with or without to-go cups.

"It seems pretty obvious to me where people drink doesn't make any difference," said David Stachel, a manager at Wet Willie's. "There's plenty of laws to enforce, and they're not being enforced."

But Lt. Dana Brown, who works in Precinct 1, which includes River Street and City Market, said the problem with enforcement of some of the city ordinances is the way the state law is written.

"In order for us to enforce something like that, we have to see it," Lt. Brown said of offenses such as public urination and littering. For any misdemeanor or city ordinance violations, the officer must witness the misconduct. Otherwise, their hands are tied.

Although that's a difficult part of the job for officers downtown, Lt. Brown said Precinct 1 has made extra efforts to compensate. A walking beat with three officers was created about six months ago. The officers work Tuesdays through Saturdays from the evening into the early-morning hours, Lt. Brown said.

Officer Michael Wagner, who's been on the Savannah Historic Officer Walking unit since May, said he enjoys his job. Although he focuses on violent crime, he also catches people littering and urinating in public.

In an average month, the walking unit makes 30 arrests for misdemeanors and felonies and writes dozens of citations for city ordinance violations.

The SHOW unit officers walk between five and 10 miles a night, Officer Wagner said. Since the creation of the walking units, robberies have been reduced and calls for service in the downtown area are down, he said. "Every citizen I've talked to really likes it. We'll handle things before they happen."

In his travels, Officer Wagner said, he doesn't see many problems specifically related to to-go cups.

"That last cup is the icing on the cake," Officer Wagner said. "You're going to do most of your drinking in the bar."

Savannahian Frank M. Pennington II likes the cups. "If you make people not carry cups, you're encouraging them to chug it at the bar," he said.

"If you drink on Rousakis Plaza or in Wet Willie's, it doesn't make much difference," Mr. Stachel said of the to-go cups. The bar manager agrees that there are problems associated with alcohol downtown, such as public urination and assault, but that shouldn't affect the to-go cup issue, he says. "I'm big on tradition, too. It's what Savannah's about."