Lurking and Loitering
Next Wednesday, May 21, there will be a public hearing on an ordinance change I have had on my priority list for a long time: repealing the Lurking ordinance.
Unfortunately, in order to build a Council majority of seven votes, I also have to move to make changes to the Loitering ordinance. You can see these two questions here. The changes will make it so that Loitering covers some of the crimes currently dealt with by Lurking - specifically, anything involving stealing or vandalism.
To be clear, I don't support the Loitering ordinance. I have many of the same problems with Loitering that I have with Lurking: it criminalizes intent and is used predominantly against the poor, persons experiencing homelessness, and people of color. However, I have heard from advocates for the poor and anti-homelessness crusaders that Lurking does more damage than Loitering, for the following reasons:
- Lurking looks worse on arrest records. I hear that potential employers and landlords can countenance hiring or housing someone with a Loitering arrest on his/her record. The popular conception is that homeless persons just get picked up for Loitering. Lurking, on the other hand, sounds scary. It becomes more of an obstacle to folks transitioning out of homelessness by finding work and housing, helping to keep the vicious cycle turning.
- Loitering is more specific, provides clearer direction the police and is less open to constitutional challenges based on how broad or how vague it is. The Lurking ordinance criminalizes "lurking or lying in wait with the intent to commit any crime." It is entirely open to police officers to decide who "intends" to commit a crime, what crime they "intend" to commit, and what evidence there is for that alleged intent. My changes to the Loitering ordinance make very clear what specific behaviors prove intent to commit which specific crimes. If a behavior is covered in the ordinance, the officer can issue a citation. If it is not, he/she cannot. This makes the proposed new Loitering ordinance significantly less of a "blank check" than the Lurking ordinance.
If you believe that our justice system should actually be just, that we should focus precious police resources on actual crime, and that we should focus on fighting the root causes of homelessness and crime rather than throwing money at ineffectually 'managing' these problems, please come to the PS&RS committee on May 21 at 1pm, here in City Hall, to testify. It will be a hard fight, but I hope that the Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee will pass this forward with recommendation, and that the Council will pass it on June 6.