COLUMBIA – The Columbia City Council will seek more information and input about a possible ordinance to prohibit loitering downtown after reviewing a report from the Police Department during Monday night's meeting.
Some details need to be addressed before the ordinance can be developed, such as a definition of loitering, hours of enforcement and requirements for an officer to prove a violation.
Chicago adopted a loitering law in 1992 to address gang issues. The city defined loitering as "remain(ing) in any one place with no apparent purpose."
But in 1999 the Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional for being too vague and without clear guidelines for acceptable conduct. In 2000, the law was reinstated with clearer definitions of loitering, according to a Columbia police report.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said before the meeting that the proposed ordinance needs more research before a decision can be made. He would like to see more discussion from the public, particularly downtown business owners.
The Special Business District will take up the issue at its Tuesday meeting, according to board Chairwoman Mary Wilkerson. Based on a Police Department poll of 33 downtown businesses, there is support for an ordinance, according the report.
Cody Sims, manager at Subway on Ninth Street, said he was not part of the poll, but would be in favor of a loitering ordinance. He said the people sitting outside Subway affect business negatively, and his customers have complained about being panhandled.
Laura Wilson, the owner of Blackberry Exchange on Ninth Street, said she's not in favor of the ordinance but can see why some people would be.
"(Loitering) generally doesn't affect our business. I absolutely don't have a problem with the people outside," she said.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said before the meeting that with ordinances concerning drunkenness and panhandling already in place, things could get "tricky."
Chapter 16 of the city ordinances says it is illegal to panhandle in a number of situations, including within 10 feet of the entrance of a building, on a city bus, within 20 feet of a bus station or bus stop or in an aggressive manner.
It is also illegal to enter a church, school or courtroom in a drunken condition, and it is illegal to have an open alcoholic beverage on a street, sidewalk or parking structure.
At the meeting, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser agreed this issue is in the "beginning stage," and she's open to a discussion with the community.
The Police Department is going to continue researching the subject.