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The Brooklyn Paper

Enjoying an ice cold one on your warm stoop could send you to the cooler.

That’s what a Park Sloper learned on Aug. 27, when a uniformed officer ticketed him for drinking a beer — on his own front steps — at 11 pm.

This summons for public consumption of alcohol has sparked outrage across Brownstone Brooklyn, where a stoop is as much a source of pride as a well-worn Dodgers cap — and a person’s right to drink there is considered natural law.

“The stoop is the social center of the universe,” said Brad Engstrom (pictured at right), who fought a similar open container ticket last year in Park Slope and won. “I’ve met every neighbor on my block [by] inviting them to have a beer on my stoop.”

But as with most parties, it’s all fun and games until the cops show up.

The man in the latest incident said he will pay the $25 fine, but in a post on the Park Slope Parents Web site, he said he is incensed at the officer’s interpretation of the city’s open-container law.

Indeed, isn’t a stoop private property?

Uh, no.

According to the Title 10, Chapter 1, Section 10-125 of the city administrative code, a public place is any location where “a substantial group of persons has access” — and remain in view of other members of the public.

The interpretation of that law is left to individual officers, said a source at the 78th Precinct, and there is no hard and fast rule. Some officers don’t ticket people if they are high up on their stoop or behind a gate. Others slap a summons if the drinking is in clear view of the public, the source said.

In essence, even though your stoop is on your property, downing a beer there is the same as doing so in a parked car on a public street, the city code says. Whether stoop or car, as long as the public can see the “crime” in process, the space is de facto public.

The ticket blitz is eerily reminiscent of the warning letter sent to a Park Slope 6-year-old last year after she used common sidewalk chalk to scrawl artwork on her front stoop. Though there was international outrage after The Brooklyn Paper broke the story, the enforcement against “Graffiti Girl” Natalie Shea boiled down to the same issue: She may have been on her stoop, but as long as the public could see the “vandalism,” she and her family were open for a summons.

The notion of open, public space comes down to use, explained Lawrence Elbaum, an attorney who lives in Brooklyn Heights.

“If it’s a brownstone and 30 people live in the building and 30 people who don’t live in the building enter and exit everyday, it’s probably ‘public,’ as opposed to a single-family home” that is not widely frequented by large numbers of non-residents, Elbaum said.

Sloper Philip Shimmel, who was ticketed with Engstrom last year, thinks something fishier is afoot: the city is out to get more revenue.

Last winter, Shimmel and Engstrom were enjoying the triple-fermented, effervescent Fin du Monde on a friend’s gated stoop on 17th Street when two cops ticketed all three men for open containers.

“Our constitutional rights are in a little bit in jeopardy,” Shimmel said. “These guys are really looking for any nutjobbery in order to raise money for the city.”

An NYPD spokeswoman disagreed: “We always address open containers, that’s just the law. It’s illegal [to have] any open container in public.”

And by “public,” she means your stoop.

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Reader Feedback

MD from Park Slope says:
gay gay gay gay gayyyy

free country my ass
Sept. 5, 2008, 12:05 pm
suzyO from greenpoint says:
alrighty, then. my backyard is, at all times, available for viewing by any of my neighbors in adjacent houses and apartment buildings.

is it illegal for me to drink a beer on my patio?
Sept. 5, 2008, 9:11 pm
tomitillo from all of bklyn says:
Congrats guys! Now you know how the poor folks in Bed Stuy, Brownsville and E N.Y. feel. However, three grown men drinking beers on the stoop of a brownstone is not exactly a "quality of life" condition.
Sept. 8, 2008, 7:48 pm
Andy from Bklyn says:
suzyO from greenpoint says: alrighty, then. my backyard is, at all times, available for viewing ...

It's not about "viewing" -- it's about "access" and "public."
The story cites the NYC admin code, which defines public place (where alcohol is banned) as:
"A place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access including, but not limited to, any highway, street, road, sidewalk, parking area, shopping area, place of amusement, playground, park or beach located within the city except that the definition of a public place shall not include those premises duly licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises or within their own private property. Such public place shall also include the interior of any stationary motor vehicle which is on any highway, street, road, parking area, shopping area, playground, park or beach located within the city."
So looks like this summons was triggered by street proximity/access -- which isn't the same as a backyard or "viewing" by nosy neighbors.
And note that the "private property" exception refers to "those premises duly licensed" for outdoor-ish drinking -- and not to any old private property.
Feb. 11, 2009, 4:22 pm

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