Vice Squad
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Public Intoxication: A Shaggy Dog Story

It is one thing to be intoxicated in public. It is another matter entirely to get your dog mixed up in the business. (Thanks to CrimLaw for the pointer.)

Public intoxication was once the leading cause for arrests in many US cities. Such arrests fell out of fashion in the late 1960s, with many states adopting a public health approach to alcoholics. Here (pdf format, 33 pages) is the "Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act", dating from 1971. The Prefatory Note to this Act contains this remarkable passage: "In 1968, Congress passed the Alcohol Rehabilitation Act of 1968 (Public Law 90-574) the first Federal law dealing specifically with the treatment of alcoholism on a national basis. Congress declared in that Act that 'the handling of chronic alcoholics within the system of criminal justice perpetuates and aggravates the broad problem of alcoholism whereas treating it as a public health problem permits early detection and prevention of alcoholism and effective treatment and rehabilitation, relieves police and other law enforcement agencies of an inappropriate burden that impedes their important work, and better serves the interests of the public.'" You don't think that such a humane approach could be applied to other addictions, do you?

Of course, public intoxication arrests have not exactly disappeared. A little more than a year ago, Fairfax County (Virginia) police hit upon a particularly inspired way to pad their arrest stats, though admittedly, through a sort of shooting-fish-in-a-barrel tactic: they entered bars and arrested patrons who appeared intoxicated. (Washington Post article, registration required.) If you want to hunt ducks, I am told, you should go where the ducks are.

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