Ask a Cop

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Illustration: Sean Hennefer

Dear Copper;

Simple question: what’s the official laws with drinking in public in SLC? I’ve seen people walk down State Street past an officer with a beer in-hand and not get hassled, yet watched a cop car roll up on a neighbors house to give him and his friends grief for drinking quietly on his stoop. It seems like local law enforcement doesn’t know when to do what at any given point. What are the guidelines?
Much Love;
Secretly Swillin’
Love accepted, my fine Rummy— I mean Wino—I mean Swiller … Friend:

You cannot drink alcohol in public in Salt Lake City. Unlike Las Vegas, you can’t walk down the street with drink in hand. Alcohol must be imbibed on private property, or, if it’s within a public area, then permission and permits are required. An example would be the Utah Arts Festival, which is held in the middle of the public street, the Main Library’s grounds and the City/County Building. Or, think of all the bars and restaurants—like Pie Hole and the Atlantic Cafe—that have alcohol served on patios located on the public sidewalk.  These places must have permission and permits from the Mormon church … I mean, the government.

There is no cause for cops to hassle your friend on his own private property for drinking beer. Most likely, they were there for a noise complaint, underage drinkers or something similar, but cops don’t respond to beer drinking complaints.

What most people don’t know is that Utah has no “public intoxication” law. Utah has an “intoxication” law (UCC 76.9.701), which says that it’s illegal to be intoxicated by any substance to such an extent, even inside your private residence, that you become a danger to yourself or others. You also can’t get so wasted on whatever substance, including inside your own home, that you “unreasonably disturb” other persons.  That’s why one dude, calmly walking down the street, drunk off his ass and sipping out of a cup, goes unmolested by the cops, while the other dude, sipping out of a similar cup, with a foul, loud mouth, offensively hip-thrusting at the girl walking the other way, gets the night stick up his ass.

As you indicate, cops have a ton of discretion with how alcohol laws are enforced. Generally, if you’re not dicks to them when they arrive at your loud party, they won’t be dicks to you. You can’t disturb the cops’ peace, so they’re at your house because you’re disturbing someone else’s. Be respectful of the job they have to do, and at the most, you’ll get a ticket, but usually just a warning.
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