There's no room at the jail for the county's drunks, and that's leaving local police departments out in the cold.
Sheriff Brad Gates, faced with an order from a federal judge to reduce the County Jail's population, has refused to hold most suspects in misdemeanor offenses, including public drunkenness, prostitution, shoplifting and assault.
And police officials from around the county said last week they are particularly concerned that drunks, released before they can sober up in jail, may be vulnerable to street crimes and accidental injury.
"It's had a tremendous impact on us, and as the year goes by, it's going to become an increasing problem," said Gene Hansen, deputy police chief in Santa Ana.
Santa Ana, with a large transient population, has cut its public drunkenness arrests by 75%. Neighboring Orange has spent $4,000 to build its own drunk tank. Private facilities in the county, such as the Salvation Army, are said to be chronically overcrowded.