Booze Bust: SJ City Council Addresses High Arrest Rate

The city is currently facing a federal lawsuit, filed last month by three men who said they were wrongly charged.

So many sparks flew at Tuesday night's San Jose city council meeting, it took until early Wednesday morning before the council members could take a vote.

Community groups spent hours speaking out against the city's high number of arrests for being drunk in public.

In the end, the council assigned the issue to a task force which is supposed to get back with alternative recommendations early next year.

Last year, San Jose police arrested 4,661 people for public drunkenness, far more than any other city in California. Critics say police officers are enforcing the law too aggressively and clogging up the court system.

57 percent of those arrested were Latino, which also led to allegations of racial profiling. Latinos make up only 32 percent of the city's population.

San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis has denied racial profiling and considers the arrests a serious way to deal with a legitimate threat to public safety.

The city is currently facing a federal lawsuit, filed last month by three men who said they were wrongly charged with public drunkenness.

A main concern for the community groups and activists opposed to the arrest policy is that officers are allowed to use their own discretion in making an arrest for being drunk in public. A blood or breath test does not need to be administered, something Davis believes could be changed.

"We can certainly offer it. If there are people who are feeling they're being arrested falsely, there's no reason we couldn't provide that kind of resource for them," Davis said.

Davis also noted that many other cities in the states will send a person arrested for public drunkenness to a sobering center, instead of prosecuting them, as is done in San Jose.

Mayor Chuck Reed has said the city would consider re-opening the city's sobering center, which closed four years ago.

Other councilmembers are expressing concern.

Councilman Sam Liccardo represents the city's downtown district, where 36% of the arrests have occured. Liccardo says he supports opening the sobering centers and requiring some proof of intoxication for arrest.

"There isn't a clear definition," Councilwoman Nora Campos said. "The law is very vague and its important for us to have a law that's defined so it protects the police officer making the arrest, as well as the citizen."

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