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Casper city staff recommend shorter hours for downtown open alcohol container nights in summer 2022

Beer fans enjoy craft brews as rain clouds loom overhead during the David Street Station Brew Fest on Saturday, June 26, 2021. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — City of Casper staff are recommending that a variety of changes be implemented for summer 2022 open alcohol container nights in the downtown area. People were allowed to have open alcohol containers in a designated area on certain nights during the 2021 summer season after the city council approved rules for the open container nights in May 2021.

In summer 2021, the rules allowed open containers from 5-10 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays along with the Sundays of Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend. Staff are recommending that open container nights be ended at 9 p.m. during the 2022 season, according to a memo included in the Casper City Council’s Tuesday, November 30 work session work packet.

Ending open container nights at 9 p.m. rather than 10 p.m. would “more closely approximate the active hours of the restaurant industry in the downtown area” and would also help reduce overtime expenses of the Casper Police Department, according to the memo. Police observed a “significant decline” in the number of people participating in the open container nights in summer 2021 after 9 p.m.

Another recommended change for the 2022 season is for the Casper Police Department to specifically budget for overtime expenses related to the Open Container nights. Specifically budgeting for Open Container overtime expenses rather than absorbing these costs in the department’s general overtime budget line would help ensure that the department is able to provide officers to patrol during the open container nights. The memo adds that it is expected that up to $25,000 would need to be budgeted for the police department’s overtime expenses related to the open container nights during the 2022 season.

During the 2021 open container nights, “[p]olice presence was inconsistent on a night-to-night basis,” according to the memo. The police department experienced some difficulty in providing officers to patrol during the open container nights due to “ongoing staffing shortages” and also because other things that happened in the community had already sapped much of the department’s overtime budget.

“Police participation, due to staffing difficulties, often resulted in the reassignment of personnel from crime prevention efforts (PORT and SRO teams) to provide coverage in the Open Container event area,” the memo states. “The reassignment of critical personnel is inconsistent with the department’s public safety goals.”

In addition to reducing the hours of the 2022 open container nights and modifying how the police department budgets for related overtime expenses, city staff are also recommending that the Casper Public Services Department explore the possibility of installing permanent signs to identify the perimeter of the designated open container area.

In 2021, Public Services staff set out barrels to mark the perimeters on Thursday afternoons and picked those up again on Monday mornings. These efforts took about 2.5-3 hours and cost the department a total of $5,100 during the entire summer. Installing permanent signs that could be uncovered when open container nights are happening could reduce the time and cost associated with setting out the barrels and signage.

Staff are also recommending that the city require participating liquor establishments to issue wristbands branded with the establishment’s name to people purchasing alcohol to take out of the establishment rather than providing containers marked with stickers. The memo states that many establishments communicated that issuing wristbands to people 21 years old and over would be as effective as the sticker system. Some liquor establishments found it difficult to estimate the number of stickers they would need to obtain from the city and the wristband system could potentially be less cumbersome.

The memo states that the 2021 open container nights were inconsistently attended by the public, which may have been due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Police did not observe any “significant threats to public safety” due to the open container nights. However, the memo states that police officers “frequently observed” alcohol “brought from home and stored or accessed in or from vehicles,” which was not allowed under the open container night rules. The memo adds that people participating in the open container nights sometimes reported that they thought they were allowed to bring their own alcohol downtown.

Inconsistency in the types of containers liquor establishments issued to participants in the open container nights made it difficult for law enforcement to enforce against the introduction of unapproved containers.

Patrolling officers did not observe significant incidents of people violating the open container boundary area. However, the memo states that officers did observe litter that could be directly attributed to the open container events. While there were enough trash receptacles throughout the area, clear plastic cups, lids and straws were often observed littered on the ground in close proximity to trash receptacles.

The Casper City Council is expected to discuss the recommended changes for the 2022 open container season during its Tuesday, November 30 work session. Further details are available in the council’s work packet.