Urinetown

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January 26, 2004 // UPDATED 2:42 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Can a campaign asking bar-goers to pee inside keep them from watering Warehouse District streets?

Go before you go.

That's the message Downtown neighborhood leaders want to send to bar patrons who would otherwise choose to relieve themselves on the city's streets.

P-O'ed by public urinators, the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA) has plans to pledge $10,000 toward a public-awareness campaign to crack down on the problem in the city's bar district.

The "Go Before You Go" campaign -- yes, that's the actual name -- is still in its early stages, but organizers say the money would likely go toward posters or coasters reminding bargoers to stop at the restroom before they leave for the night. DMNA leaders pitched the antiurination campaign (or pro-urination, depending on how you look at it) to bar owners Jan. 20 at a meeting at 1st Precinct police headquarters.

Andrew Hauer, a DMNA board member who has lived Downtown for 30 years, said he has witnessed the problem firsthand.

"It's getting worse and worse. People are becoming more casual about it. If you walk one block, you can spot five occasions of it. Places like the Skyway Theater -- you can actually see puddles there," Hauer said.

DMNA Vice Chair Kim Motes, who came up with the slogan "Go Before You Go," said the neighborhood group discussed the possibility of setting aside money for more restrooms but decided against it, determining it would be too expensive.

"We really looked at the fact that we can't solve the whole problem, but if we can begin to create awareness of the problem with what appears to be the most frequent offenders -- the bar crowd -- we might be able to reduce it," Motes said, director of the Minnesota Shubert Performing Arts and Education Center, 516 Hennepin Ave. S.

Tougher penalties

Police have tagged 60 people for public urination since Nov. 1, said Luther Krueger, a Minneapolis Police crime-prevention specialist who focuses on Downtown neighborhoods.

Before Nov. 1, public urination fell under disorderly conduct, a more general offense category that made it harder to track.

When bars overcrowd, the problem often becomes more acute, he said.

"They close down, and you have a bar with room for 500 people and they've got 1,000 in there. You know there's 500 of them who aren't going to make it to the bathroom when they close. So they'll be streaming out -- literally -- at the end of the day," he said.

Under city code, establishments with a liquor license are required to have bathroom facilities for both men and women. Restrooms are required to have a minimum of one toilet in each bathroom. There has been talk of placing more public restrooms Downtown, but so far no one has stepped forward with a plan. Some have suggested requiring developers planning projects Downtown that seek city subsidies to set aside public restrooms for general use. Many hotels, bars, restaurants and stores limit facilities to customers.

In 2001, there were 445 reports of public urination/disorderly conduct cases Downtown -- a 95 percent increase from 2000, when 228 cases were reported. (2001 was the last year the city disaggregated urination cases from the disorderly conduct category.)

Most of the urination occurred along Hennepin Avenue, between 5th and 7th streets. The 7th Street parking ramp, a block from the Target Center, topped the list of most peed-on parcels with 101 reported cases.

When the city adopted a new administrative adjudication process last fall to handle so-called "nuisance crimes," public urination became a civil offense instead of criminal charge. Before, fines typically ran between $50 and $75.

Now, police issue civil fines. The first offense comes with an $80 tag. Subsequent fines double and triple that amount. A collection agency goes after people who fail to respond to tickets. Under the old model, warrants were issued for those who neglected to appear in court. Under the old system, most offenders blew off the tickets and few were prosecuted.

Some of the offenders charged with public urination participate in the Restorative Justice program run by the Central City Neighborhoods Partnership (CCNP). The program brings offenders of so-called "nuisance" crimes face-to-face with members of the community to examine the impact of the offenders' misconduct.

In 2002, public-urination cases made up half of the 123 conferences organized by Restorative Justice, said Mike Rollin, a community organizer with the program.

Bar-goers, not homeless, the problem

Those familiar with public urination say most of the problems aren't from the poor and homeless, but from bar-goers too addled or lazy to go inside.

By and large, most of the offenders are younger males. "They just sometimes got caught outside and needed a place to go and couldn't get back into a bar. There weren't public restrooms, and they ended up going in an alley," Rollin said. "There clearly is a shortage of public restrooms that people can use, especially after bars close."

DMNA's Hauer, who served on a committee examining the problem a couple years back, said neighborhood leaders have come up with several ideas to deal with the problem, but none of the proposed remedies has had any traction.

One of the zanier ideas involved driving a trailer around at night with portapotties.

For now, the "Go Before You Go" organizers simply want to highlight the problem and point the people in the direction of a bathroom.

"At 2 a.m. you're shuttled out of Minneapolis, you're shuttled out of the bar, and the city of Minneapolis wants to get rid of you as fast as possible," Hauer said. "[Public urination] is so inappropriate, there's not much you can do about it. It's different with panhandling or something, you can tell them there's a Minneapolis ordinance against panhandling, but when it comes to public urination, you just have to look the other way."