Ordinance clamping down on open containers

The open container ordinance, which prohibits the consumption of alcohol in public areas, is the most violated city ordinance, Michael Beckwith, captain with the Oswego City Police Department said.

As of Oct. 7 there have been 240 violations of the open container ordinance in 2009 as of, said Cassie Kinney, chief clerk of the Oswego City Court.

Violation of the ordinance has increased in the past two or three years due to the implementation of "Quality of Life" patrols, which are extra patrols put out on weekends to catch "Quality of Life" issues such as loud noise disturbances, public urination and criminal mischief in the city.

"Because they’re out there looking for that I think that’s why we may have seen an increase in arrests, but I don’t think that necessarily equates to that it’s a bigger problem than it ever was before," Beckwith said.

Streets, highways, parking lots, public parks, and vehicles are included in the ordinance. Sitting in a parked car and drinking is in violation open container, The role of alcohol consumption plays a huge role in "Quality of Life" issues.

"There’s a whole host of ‘Quality of Life’ issues that more often than not can be attributed to the consumption of alcohol," Beckwith said. "For the the simple reason that people don’t think rationally when they’re under the influence of alcohol it effects their judgment."

The ordinance also provides city police with another avenue for dealing with people under the influence of alcohol.

The "Quality of Life Patrols" were started to "try to minimize the effects the late nights that [bar] patrons have on communities," Mayor Randolph Bateman said.

Bar owners are responsible for making sure that the open container ordinance is enforced outside their establishments.

"They’re supposed to not allow anybody to leave their premise with an open container," Beckwith said. It is considered a violation of their liquor license that N.Y. state issues.

The police department has asked liquor serving establishments to post signs to remind their patrons of the ordinance.

"We have a high concentration of taverns and bars and convenience stores that sell alcohol so I think the availability of it is an issue," Beckwith said.

Peggy Izyk, manager of the Press Box in downtown Oswego, has had no problem with open containers, due to their older clientele.

"They’re less likely to walk out of here with an open beer," she said.

The open container ordinance may be commonly violated due to Oswego’s college town status, Beckwith said. This is due in part to the constant turnover of new students who may not be aware of the ordinance.

The open container ordinance went into effect on May 12, 1980.

"…the consumption of alcoholic beverage in public streets and public places, except under certain conditions, is detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the City of Oswego, causes unsightly and unsanitary conditions and creates a nuisance," the ordinance reads.

"Obviously we want our community to be attractive to people," Beckwith said. "We want it to be considered a good place to come and live. We want our residents to be able to live in peace and not have disturbances in their neighborhoods."

When a person is arrested for violation of the open container ordinance the arresting officer usually gives them a ticket that also serves as a court appearance ticket. While an offender is usually not taken into custody because they do not be processed for the infringement of ordinances, it is still an arrest, Beckwith said.

The city of Fulton also has an open container ordinance, that is the second most violated ordinance in Fulton next to parking. As of Oct. 6, there have been 20 open container violations in 2009. Like Oswego, the Fulton Police Department conducts "Quality of Life" patrols.

"From our experience we find that if you allow people to possess an open container in public it serves as a potential starter problem for other criminal activity," said Tom Abelgore, deputy chief of police in Fulton. Their open container ordinance has been in place for over 30 years.

The ordinance can be difficult to enforce, especially if the suspected alcoholic beverage is not in a manufacturers container, Abelgore said.