Abstract

Laws that decriminalize public drunkenness continue to use the police as the major intake agent for public inebriates under the "new" public health model of detoxification and treatment. Assuming that decriminalization introduces many disincentives to police intervention using legally sanctioned procedures, we hypothesize that it will be followed by a statistically significant decline in the number of public inebriates formally handled by the police in the manner designated by the "law in the books." Using an "interrupted time-series quasi-experiment" based on a "stratified multiple-group single-I design," we confirm this hypothesis for Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, through intensive "microanalysis" of these two jurisdictions, we show that Minneapolis, in responding to strong business pressure, developed several alternative means of keeping the streets clear of transient public inebriates while Washington, D.C., treated decriminalization as an opportunity to shift police priorities and relied on informal "safe zones" to handle the inebriate population.

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