NEW PORT RICHEY — The city is poised to toughen its open container laws after police discovered a loophole that is making it tough to combat public drinking.
During a City Council meeting Tuesday, police Chief Kim Bogart said his department has been fielding numerous complaints about people drinking alcohol in parking lots, outside gas stations and in strip shopping centers — areas the city's current alcohol ordinance does not address.
"We run into these complaints an incredible amount of times," Bogart said.
In response, the council passed on first reading an amendment to the city's alcohol ordinance, adding language to the existing ordinance, which says it is unlawful to "consume or possess an open container of alcoholic beverages on any property owned by the city, public parks, public sidewalks, and rights-of-ways." The amendment will add "streets, alleys, public or semi-public parking lots, or semi-public spaces within the city" to the ordinance. Open container citations carry a $250 fine.
Not everyone on the council liked the amendment, which was approved by 3-1 vote. Council member Chopper Davis voted against it, saying he understood why the city needs to address the problem but expressed concern that the wording "semi-public" might be vulnerable to legal challenge.
Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips said the city regularly tweaks its alcohol ordinance when issues arise and the same will be true for the amendment, if needed.
Bogart told the Times the amendment will better define where his officers can issue citations. Some have been challenged in court, he said, because they were issued in areas not specifically spelled out in the ordinance.
"I want it more clearly defined. It will help everybody," Bogart said. "It will help our officers, it will help the citizens, it will help the judges if the ordinance is worded properly."