After nearly two hours of debate this morning, the Mobile City Council approved both an ordinance designed to stop late night cruising downtown and one dialing back the hours outdoor consumption of alcohol is allowed in the entertainment districts.
The cruising ordinance, designed to prevent drivers from repeatedly driving down the same street within a given amount of time, is one of the tools Mobile Police Chief James Barber asked for to help address downtown violence.
The violence, namely a number of recent shootings, can be attributed in part to large, unruly, late-night crowds, Barber said. He told councilors the ordinance would prevent drivers from cruising and clogging up streets, thus allowing for a more steady flow of traffic to help disperse crowds. Barber admitted the cruising ordinance alone would not fix the problem entirely, but it was a tool that could be used to help.
The ordinance states the “no cruising zone” would encompass all downtown entertainment districts between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily. A driver may not pass the same traffic points within the “no cruising zone” more than twice within any two hour period.
Before the council unanimously voted to pass the cruising ordinance, it added two amendments. Councilors asked that the ordinance sunset on Nov. 17 in order to review its effectiveness. Councilman Levon Manzie also asked that police officers be required to issue either a written or verbal warning on a driver’s third time passing through the “no cruising zone” within the allotted time.
Barber said the MPD had planned for what he called “voluntary compliance” on the ordinance anyway, meaning officers would verbally warn drivers before issuing a ticket without it being written into the official ordinance. City Attorney Ricardo Woods said forcing officers to warn drivers would cause problems for judges within the municipal court system. Woods said it can be hard to prove a driver was warned, especially verbally.
Chief among the concerns for Manzie and other councilors was the chance that a driver looking for a parking spot would unintentionally run afoul of the ordinance. He said he and some fraternity brothers, while visiting a city with a similar ordinance, were pulled over for “cruising” when the group was just looking for a place to park in a busy downtown.
Manzie said he wouldn’t want a similar situation in Mobile to taint visitors’ experience in the city, specifically the downtown area.
“It left a negative impression with me …,” Manzie said. “I’m not playing politics. This is serious for me.”
Councilman Joel Daves said he thought the stipulations were reasonable. He told councilors when he passes by Dauphin Street and can’t find parking, he moves on to other streets, like St. Francis Street.
“If you pass by twice and can’t find any parking, any rational person would try somewhere else,” Daves said. “I’m supporting this.”
Manzie acknowledged Tuesday he would support the advice of experts, but added that the ordinance was too subjective and he knew of too many instances where it could potentially lead to problems. He also responded to Daves’ parking advice.
“You might not circle around to find a spot, but I would,” Manzie said. “I have family who would. Plus this is three times in two hours.”
Both Manzie and Councilman Fred Richardson asked Barber about closing streets during certain hours at night. Barber told them that closing streets would encourage crowds to form because there would be no vehicles passing through to disperse them.
Manzie also asked why the MPD couldn’t charge “cruising” drivers with disorderly conduct, which is already on the books. Barber said punishment for disorderly conduct is an arrest, which they wanted to avoid. Instead, the “cruising” ordinance would only result in a fine.
The council also changed the hours that outdoor consumption of alcohol is permitted. An amendment to the ordinance, which council also approved unanimously, would allow for outdoor consumption of alcohol in the entertainment districts from noon to midnight, instead of from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Similar to the “cruising” ordinance, the council added a sunset date of Nov. 17 to the amendment.
Other regulations in the so-called “open container” law are still in place, including the requirement that outdoor drinks be carried in a designated cup, taken from an establishment within the entertainment districts along Dauphin Street. A designated cup can be no larger than 16 ounces and no can, or bottle shall exit an establishment.
Barber said enforcement of the open container law starts with police asking a violator to pour the drink out, but can lead to an arrest. Barber said he would like to see another amendment to the law that makes it punishable by citation, rather than arrest.