The Riverton City Council passed a new ordinance on first reading this week banning loitering on private property.
The proposed change would help officers respond to reports about people “loitering around closed businesses at night,” Riverton Police Department chief Eric Hurtado said.
Currently, he explained, city law only bars loitering at public or private schools, so officers have “limited enforcement action” available to them when someone is found loitering at a private business, despite the fact that “several businesses have complained that they’ve discovered evidence of attempted break-ins, vandalism (and) tampering.”
“The goal (of this ordinance) is to interrupt the act of crime and prevent crime,” Hurtado said. “(It will) make the community a whole lot safer.”
During a public hearing on the proposal, local resident Chesie Lee expressed concern about the definition of “loitering” in the ordinance, which she said was “kind of vague” and raised questions about the kinds of activities that would be deemed illegal under the new rule.
The ordinance defines “to loiter” as “to be dilatory, to spend time idly, to loaf, to wander aimlessly.”
“It’s hard to define,” Councilmember Kyle Larson said. “But I know it when I see it. (It’s) walking or being without purpose. Standing around. … That’s what loitering is.”
Community member Wayne Dick pushed back on that answer, however, asking whether Larson was going to be the one deciding if people are loitering in town.
“There’s too many of these laws out here where you’re guilty because somebody says you’re guilty,” Dick said. “Look how much room there is for opinions (in that definition). Who’s going to say whether they’re loitering or not?”
Hurtado said officers would use their “discretion” to make the determination.
For example, he said, an officer wouldn’t arrest a group of children for loitering if they’ve sought shelter under a private awning during a storm while awaiting the school bus.
Instead, Hurtado said an officer might use the new law to arrest someone who is standing “by a blank wall … with a spray can in their hands” in the middle of the night.
“They haven’t done anything yet, (but) you know what they’re about to do,” Hurtado said. “This would give us the chance to make contact (with) people that are getting ready to break the law, and it’s the officer’s discretion to build a case depending on the totality of circumstances if they think a crime is about to be committed.”
Dick said “it’s not right” to leave those kinds of decisions to officers.
Lee had also expressed concern about the constitutionality of the proposed ordinance, referencing a Supreme Court decision that declared loitering laws unconstitutional.
Hurtado said that case involved public property and did not apply to loitering on private land, but Mayor Tim Hancock said he would look into the question further “before we go through with this” ordinance on final reading.
For more information call the City of Riverton at 856-2227.