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Moorhead unanimously approves 'disruptive intoxication' law

MOORHEAD – A new law allowing police to arrest people who are drunk and disruptive was passed unanimously Tuesday by the City Council in Moorhead.

The so-called “disruptive intoxication” ordinance will now allow police officers to arrest drunken individuals who are publicly causing a “disruption.” A “disruption” is defined as including loud, boisterous yelling, urinating in public, or lewd or combative conduct. It also allows the arrest of individuals who are drunkenly unconscious in a public place.

Some council members questioned the city’s police chief, asking if the law would be used to target certain residents that may be habitually drunk.

“Does this open up some form of harassment for the homeless or the college students?” Councilwoman Mari Dailey asked Police Chief Dave Ebinger.

Ebinger said he reviews all complaints and believes this law would be used sparingly and that it would not target the homeless or college students.

“This is when you’ve got somebody who’s alarmed the public, somebody who’s got their pants falling down in one of our local grocery stores … or lays on the table in the library and goes to sleep in the middle of the day,” he said.

Ebinger said he “misspoke” when he first pitched this law in February. Those cited for disruptive intoxication will not be kept in the county jail, where he said space is reserved for more serious crimes like driving while intoxicated.

Instead, officers will do what they do now – try to find a sober adult to take custody of the person, take the person to detox or to the emergency room if medically needed, or drive them around in a squad car until the problem resolves itself.

Ebinger said giving the person a consequence – a citation and a date in front of a judge – is better than letting his officers deal with the same drunkenly disruptive person week after week.

“The worst thing you can do for an addict or an alcoholic is enable them,” he said. “And if you take away the consequences of their conduct, you are enabling them.”

Councilwoman Heidi Durand asked if there was any collaboration with addiction therapists in writing the law. Giving a ticket to someone who is homeless and an alcoholic might only make their problems worse, Durand said.

Ebinger said the courts have alternative sentencing and diversion programs that can provide addiction counseling.

“When we have people that do this sometimes three, four, five times a month, we need to have consequences attached,” Ebinger said. “This is not a matter of us deciding if they’re going to be punished. This is a matter of holding them accountable with a citation, where they have to go before a judge to explain what’s going on.”

The City Council passed a second reading of the ordinance with an 8-0 vote, making it law. A similar law was passed in Mankato in 2011.

Disruptive intoxication is a petty misdemeanor, with a fine that would be less than the fees for going to detox, Ebinger said.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.