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Public Urination or Drinking in Chicago Could Cost You $1,000

By Ted Cox | April 10, 2013 2:02pm | Updated on April 10, 2013 3:51pm
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel says punishing small crimes can keep them from turning into large crimes.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel says punishing small crimes can keep them from turning into large crimes.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Those caught urinating, drinking or gambling in public will soon face much more than a slap on the wrist thanks to an ordinance approved by the City Council Wednesday.

Last month, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggested the city adopt a New York-style "broken windows" police strategy that would stiffen penalties for those caught disturbing the "quality of life" of law-abiding Chicagoans.

The new ordinance doubles the maximum fines to $1,000 for public liquor consumption or urination and $400 for gambling. It also makes violators eligible for six months of jail time if they skip an administrative hearing.

Though no alderman voted against the ordinance, some expressed uncertainty about who will suffer from the tougher penalties.

 Ald. Bob Fioretti warned against the "unintended consequences" of toughening penalties on minor crimes.
Ald. Bob Fioretti warned against the "unintended consequences" of toughening penalties on minor crimes.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"I get the whole 'broken windows' thing," said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), but he worried that it could be used against the homeless. Pawar said he trusted the Police Department to enforce it judiciously, but urged, "Let's be careful with how we use this."

West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) backed the plan without reservations and said it's aimed at those showing "reckless disregard" for the law.

"We're tired of living with the same nonsense in our communities," he said.

Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), however, warned that it could face a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I believe that potentially this is opening ourselves to a liability," Brookins said. "We don't need the ACLU or anybody else suing the city."

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) warned against "unintended consequences," although he acknowledged, "Drinking and urinating somehow go hand in hand." He voted for it, but said, "I don't know if the ordinance, in and of itself, is as well thought out as it could be." He pointed out that gangbangers drinking openly on a street corner simply disperse when approached by police.

Yet Emanuel cheered the passage in a statement, saying, "These are not victimless crimes, as they have a negative impact on communities and the quality of life for our children, families and all residents. Increasing the fines and adding the threat of jail time is an indication of the seriousness of these crimes."

McCarthy echoed that, saying, "This amendment sends a message that crime — no matter how big or how small — will not be tolerated in our communities."

Last month, McCarthy said 65 percent of tickets for public nuisance offenses are ignored despite the fact that gambling, public urination and public drinking are three of the top complaints that come from city residents.

The ordinance, he said, "will change the behavior of the criminal who previously threw that ticket away."

New York City in the 1990s famously employed a "broken windows" police strategy under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, aggressively going after criminals for minor violations under the theory it would lead to a reduction in more serious crimes. Fixing broken windows, the theory goes, sends a message that a city means business on all aspects of community life.

The popularity of the approach faded, though, amid criticism that New York cops became too aggressive.

Emanuel previously said the crackdown would be part of a multi-faceted crime-fighting strategy employed by the Chicago Police Department.

"Is it helpful?" Emanuel said. "Without a doubt. That's why I supported it.

"But every aspect has to be worked on simultaneously. You can't point to one thing and say that will take care of the problem."