Gainesville is considering a more specific “loitering and idling” ordinance to prevent that kind of activity in public places.
The current ordinance prohibits “idling, loitering or loafing upon the streets of the city.”
“Some of the complaints we’ve been getting (involve) public property, public buildings, areas of the downtown square,” Police Chief Brian Kelly told the City Council at its Thursday work session.
The proposed ordinance says the activity would be banned “within any public building or facility or upon any location within the city normally used by the public or considered public property.”
“This would give us a more definitive tool ... if we have to enforce on this violation,” Kelly said.
The ordinance, which is set to go before the council on first reading at its Tuesday meeting, was questioned by Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras.
“This can be very subjective,” she said. “... Who’s to know which police officer just might say, ‘I can arrest you because you’re walking down the street?’”
Kelly replied, “Our intent, of course, is to go more into the loafing (aspect of the ordinance). As you have said, there could be some subjectivity into it.
“First, we always want to investigate why you are there. Is there something we can do if we see you’re living in a certain area, living under trees or in the parks. Is there something we can do to help get you out of that situation?”
Repeated offenses and not getting help that’s been recommended might lead to police intervention.
“It’s not our first intent to ever (intervene),” Kelly said. “When someone is usually in a situation like that, there’s more to that story.”
He said, for example, that someone eating lunch at a park during normal hours wouldn’t be targeted.
“But if you’re putting tents up or sleeping rolls, that’s what we’re looking at,” Kelly said.
“I still have concerns,” Figueras said. “I think it’s overdoing it a bit. To me, it leaves a person open to arrest you just because ... and that’s not good.”
“And that’s never our intent,” Kelly said. “It’s an expansion of the ordinance that is currently on the books.”
Mayor Danny Dunagan said, “I’ve had multiple complaints from people eating on the square on the sidewalk and people coming up asking and begging for money. And I’ve had tons of complaints about sleepers in the (parking) deck and using the bathroom in the deck.
“Some of that needs to be handled, and I feel sure our police department will be fair and humane about it.”
“Let us pray,” Figueras said. “... I think it’s too much. I think it says I don’t have a right to walk in the deck.”
Kelly said again that officers would assess every situation.
“If they put us in an corner, where we have no choice, we have an enforcement (option),” he said. “... We train our officers to enforce with compassion.”