Kent City Council committee discusses adoption of civility laws

Kent City Councilman Les Thomas. - COURTESY PHOTO
Kent City Councilman Les Thomas.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO

Kent City Councilman Les Thomas said each time he goes for early morning coffee in downtown Kent he sees a group of about eight to 10 men standing around the Rotary ball fountain at Town Square Plaza.

"It makes single women uncomfortable," Thomas said at a Feb. 12 council's Public Safety Committee meeting. "All of the men are waiting for the library to open so they can go keep warm."

The committee continues to study whether new civility laws are needed to help reduce behavior problems at downtown parks by the homeless. Civility laws apply to anyone in a public space engaging in inappropriate behaviors.

David A. Galazin, assistant city attorney, told the committee that park staff continues to find activity that prohibits enjoyment by others.

"A few bad apples ruin it for everybody," said Galazin, who is working with the committee about potential new laws. "People leave for their safety or their children's safety."

If Kent Police had stricter civility laws to enforce, officers might be able to reduce the problems.

"It's the same small grope of people and the same behavior over and over," Galazin said. "We're working on a conceptual framework for an ordinance that would include exclusion from public facilities."

Public urination and defecation looms are one of the larger problems.

Galazin said exclusion laws in order to make an impact need to carry a long enough ban to address repeat violators and apply to other nearby public facilities.

"With downtown area parks (now), you can exclude them from one facility and they can step across the street to another facility," Galazin said. "If you put parks in a grouping and consider them as one unit you could have as few as two places or as many as 10."

Galazin said the committee might want to consider making public urination a misdemeanor rather than a civil infraction. Misdemeanors include higher fines than civil infractions as well as the potential of jail time.

Councilwoman Dana Ralph likes the idea of grouping parks together so a person would be banned from numerous public facilities if they break the law. Ralph serves on the Public Safety Committee with Thomas and Bill Boyce.

"This is not a target on one population but the community as a whole," Ralph said. "This is for behaviors that you would not do if your mother was standing there. I want to move forward with this to give police a tool to help them with their jobs."

Exclusion of violators from public parks would help police, Galazin said.

An ordinance with new civility laws could be considered by the committee in March before going to the full seven-member council for approval.

"There is big enough interest in this and it's important to do it well," Ralph said.

Pat Crockett, who owns the Creamery building downtown on Meeker Street, told the committee she's seen beer bottles left near her building and saw a man who wanted to pick fights with people who walked past him along the street.

"On Sunday, two men urinated at the corner of our building," Crockett said.

Thomas responded that the new ordinance would only deal with parks.

"Streets and sidewalks are another issue and not part of this ordinance," Thomas said.

Police cannot remove someone from a street or sidewalk unless criminal activity has occurred, Galazin said.

Sarah Davidson, a representative of KentHope, part of a group that wants to find a site for a 24-hour homeless shelter downtown, said her group supports civility laws and wants to help businesses and police reduce the behavior problems.

"Maybe we can provide port-a-potties," Davidson said.

Parks Director Jeff Watling replied that public restrooms do exist downtown, including Town Square Plaza, the Kent Library, City Hall and Kent Station. He said the park restroom closes at dusk and park staff has had to make sure people do not try to camp overnight inside the restroom.

The committee took up the issue after a council workshop discussion Jan. 15 about whether to adopt civility laws because of so many complaints from residents and business owners.

King County Metro Transit uses civility laws to handle behavior problems at transit stations and on buses, including criminal penalties for public urination and disturbances.

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