Mapping Charleston's public urination problem with the PeeNinsula 5000 

A Going Concern

Click here to see a map of the latest public urination incidents in Charleston.

Have you ever wondered where people are peeing in public in the city of Charleston — or at least where they're getting caught?

Now, thanks to the City Paper's cutting-edge PeeNinsula 5000 Micturatron Dodeca-Doppler Wildcat [yowling sound effect]™ technology, you can get up-to-the-nanosecond updates on public urination incidents across the city ... right here, roughly once a week, depending on when we get around to refreshing the map.

We first fired up the radar on Christmas Day 2014, and so far its advanced mapping system has identified 30 instances of public urination in the Charleston Police Department's crime reports. And boy, there have been some real whiz kids, like the Georgia man who was caught wetting the base of John C. Calhoun's monument in Marion Square and told the officer he did not "agree with the beliefs of John C. Calhoun." Or the two guys who, on two separate evenings in two separate places, walked into a convenience store and urinated in a beverage cooler. Or the man in this week's Blotter who tried to run from a cop while still peeing and, after what the officer described as "an extremely brief foot pursuit," fell to the ground.

It's still early in the year, and the city's peak tourist and foot-traffic season is just beginning, but here are a few early observations: All of the incidents so far have taken place on the downtown peninsula, and most have been north of Calhoun Street. None have been south of Broad Street. Stay tuned throughout the year to see where the biggest puddles of crime accumulate.

The geography is important because, while the city has 16 public restrooms, all but four are located between Calhoun and Broad streets. Many are in parking garages that were built when the city's tourism and nightlife were more exclusively concentrated in those areas.

Time of day is also an important factor. Most public restrooms in the city close by 8 p.m. daily, with the exception of one unisex lavatory in the Visitor Center Garage that closes at midnight, according to a sign posted on the door. When bars close at 2 a.m., downtown revelers find themselves out on the sidewalk with their bodies under the influence of a potent diuretic — and nary a pot to piss in. Half of the 30 public urination incidents so far have taken place between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Toussaint Deese, a manager at the longtime Upper King Street staple Joe Pasta, brought up the issue of public urination at a recent meeting hosted by the city's Late-Night Activity Review Committee.

"When I'm leaving work around 2 [a.m.] or a little bit after 2, I'm seeing a lot of young patrons just in little corner ways of different restaurants, just urinating," Deese said. "I've actually seen a female urinate right in front of a cop one time, and nothing happened to her."

Deese said part of the late-night urination problem might be that many restaurants in historic buildings only have space for single-stall restrooms. "The ones that do have multiple stalls are already closed, so there does need to be some more options for restrooms, especially at a late-night level. I don't want to say Porta-Potties, just because it wouldn't be attractive looking, but there needs to be something," Deese said.

Source: Compiled from Charleston Police Department reports, Dec. 25, 2014 to present.

Where To Go?

Tim Keane, director of the city's Department of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability, says portable toilets are indeed out of the question.

"We've got to deal with this. We're not putting Porta-Potties out, that's for sure," Keane says.

According to Keane, the construction of public restrooms has followed revitalization patterns on the peninsula.

"Typically they're in a garage, and obviously the garages we've built have been in association with economic development and revitalization of downtown, so as the city has revitalized further and further north, we're just now building garages that will have public restrooms," Keane says. According to Keane, the upcoming Midtown hotel development, which is slated for completion this summer at the corner of King and Spring streets, will include a parking garage with public restrooms. Keane says the city is also looking for property to build a second public garage (with restrooms) near Upper King south of Spring Street.

When it comes to demand for new public bathrooms, Keane says, "The drum beat has been needing any public restrooms South of Broad, because there are none." The city has been aware of the dearth in the historic neighborhood since at least as early as May 2010, when the Post and Courier's Glenn Smith wrote a story featuring a couple who parked their car near the Battery and had to wander the sidewalks desperately searching for relief.

But when the city looked into opening a restroom South of Broad, Keane says neighborhood residents resisted. As a compromise, the city recently added weekend open hours for the ground-floor restrooms at City Hall (just north of Broad Street) and added signs at White Point Gardens directing visitors northward.

Keane says that even with the existing public bathrooms, the city has an issue with visibility. "We just don't want to put up a bunch of restroom signs all over the place, as you can imagine. But that is an issue, people knowing that they're there," he says. Many of the city's public parking garages have signs mounted near the entrance letting people know that there's a bathroom inside, but the signs are often not visible from the most heavily trafficked sidewalks.

The Yellow Scourge

One weakness in the current PeeNinsula 5000 software is that it only tracks public urination incidents that have been entered as crime reports by the Charleston Police Department. Many of the incidents are being reported by officers working under Sgt. Heath King, head of CPD's Tourism Oriented Police Services department.

"We check alcoves up and down Upper King and the Market, any dark spots," King says. "The officers check not just for people urinating, they're checking for anybody that's lying in wait, anybody conducting an illegal activity in some kind of dark area."

Under city ordinance 21-90, public urination or defecation is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to $1,092 in fines or 30 days in jail. King says officers have discretion whether to arrest an offender on the spot, write a ticket, or let the person go without taking enforcement action. Violators are rarely charged with indecent exposure, a more serious offense that can carry up to a three-year prison sentence under state law. "Somebody [who is] urinating, but they're not serving some kind of sexual gratification by exposing themselves, they're just trying to urinate, we're not going to charge them with indecent exposure," King says.

King says he doesn't want to comment on how the city can prevent public urination, saying it's more of a question for the Planning Department. But one thing is clear, according to King: "It's a problem."

"It defaces public and private property, and nobody likes walking out to either liquid- or solid-form waste, whether it be outside of your house or business or hotel room," King says. "It's not an image we want to keep, and it comes with a smell and a clean-up cost."


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