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Police Complaints Board Seeks Better Officer Training on District’s Public Drinking Law

Monday, August 17, 2009

(Washington, DC) The Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), submitted a report and recommendations to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the Council of the District of Columbia, and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy L. Lanier urging better training for MPD officers on how properly to enforce the District’s public drinking law.

The District’s Possession of an Open Container of Alcohol (POCA) law prohibits drinking or possessing an open container of alcohol in public places, which include streets, alleys, parks, sidewalks, and “parking.”  “Parking” is a form of public property unique to the District that is allowed to be used as private property.  Most of the District’s “parking” is used as front yard or front driveway space of private residences. 

The report and recommendations were developed in response to complaints filed with OPC by members of the public who alleged that MPD officers arrested them for consuming alcohol while on private, residential property.  At least two people were arrested for consuming alcohol while attending a barbecue in a private, fenced backyard.

A review conducted by OPC has shown that inadequate training and the absence of relevant MPD directives has resulted in some MPD officers who lack knowledge of when it is or isn’t permissible to arrest for POCA on residential property.  OPC discovered that some MPD officers erroneously believe all residential yard space or all backyard space in the District is public property subject to the POCA law.

To eliminate improper enforcement of POCA, PCB recommends that MPD develop a new POCA general order and in-service training for all officers, with special emphasis on how legally to enforce POCA on residential property.  PCB further recommends that the District Council consider amending the District’s POCA statute to exempt “parking” that is used as private, single-family, residential property from the list of public places subject to POCA.

OPC Executive Director, Philip K. Eure, stated that, “Providing better training to officers on when it is and isn’t lawful to arrest people for public drinking on residential property will lead to fewer arbitrary and unlawful arrests.”  He added, “Proper enforcement will in turn promote greater respect for and compliance with the law.”

To view a full copy of PCB’s full report and recommendations, click on the link below: