Riverton Officials Cracking Down on Public Intoxication
Public intoxication has long plagued Riverton, and city officials are taking steps to address the problem.
The latest measure came Tuesday night, when the Riverton City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the consumption of alcohol on city-owned property.
Riverton Police Chief Eric Murphy said his agency receives a staggering number of public intoxication calls.
Over the course of several years, the bulk of those incidents occurred in City Park. In 2017 Riverton police officers responded to 430 calls at the park. In 2018 that number fell to 307.
Most calls involved transients who took up residence in the park. Of those, 227 and 145 involved public intoxication in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
But this year, Murphy said the department and city's priority was to take back their park. Judging by the numbers, that's working -- Murphy's officers have had to respond to the park only 30 times.
Issues at the park aside, there is a larger public intoxication problem in Riverton.
But Murphy said city officials are taking a comprehensive approach. Last month, the city council passed an ordinance making it illegal to consume mouthwash or hand sanitizer in order to get drunk. Tuesday night, the council passed an ordinance prohibiting public intoxication.
Other alcohol problems plaguing Riverton include people shoplifting hand sanitizer and mouthwash from stores in order to get drunk. Murphy said the problem got so bad that Riverton library employees had to post signs telling visitors the hand sanitizer does not contain alcohol.
"The citizens are tired of it. The administration is tired of it," Murphy said. He added that the city spent all of its $75,000 jail budget within six months by incarcerating people for alcohol-related crimes. Officials are so fed up with the problem, they're willing to move money out of other budget areas to pay the jail bill.
In the past, Riverton police gave rides to intoxicated people. Sometimes those rides were to a detox center, others to a friend's house. However, that changed at the beginning of the year.
Murphy said he and his officers are on a first-name basis with many of the transients who in the past have used the park as a place to get drunk. What was intended to be a place for Riverton's families to enjoy a walk or a picnic became a place where police made 11 arrests for indecent exposure in 2017.
Those cases often involved intoxicated park visitors urinating or defecating in the park.
On Monday, Murphy issued a statement on the department's Facebook page. He's fielded several questions from concerned citizens involving the splash-pad at City Park.
"I absolutely refuse to allow anyone to negatively affect the families that will be enjoying the splash-pad. The Riverton Police Department will dedicate an officer posted at that location if that's what it takes for families to have a positive experience," Murphy wrote. "We will have officers on bikes, mounted on horses and in side-by-sides for the first couple weeks to send the message and then go from there."
For Murphy, making the park a place for Riverton's families to enjoy again is a personal issue.
"I don't care if I have to work shifts down there myself," he said.