Michael Hays was doing what thousands of CATA bus riders do every day: waiting for a bus to return home. The next bus would arrive in about 20 minutes, so the community actor decided to have a cigarette.
He walked to the north side of the downtown CATA station along Kalamazoo Street, found a curb to sit on and lit up.
“I’m sitting there having a cigarette when this security guard comes along and starts clearing everybody out,” Hays said. “[The security guard] said, ‘You gotta go, you gotta go, you gotta go.’”
Hays said he complied but asked the guard if he was loitering by simply waiting for a bus. The security guard, Hays said, didn’t respond.
During the conversation, the guard told him that if Lansing Police Department officials had been present, he would have been given an $85 ticket for loitering.
Not only was the guard right, the punishment is much worse than $85. The CATA station is currently under a 30-day drug loitering ordinance notice. Violating that law can result in a fine of up to $500 and/or 90 days in jail, according to the local ordinance.
It prohibits a person from “knowingly” loitering in a place where “controlled substances” or paraphernalia are “sold, used, dispensed, furnished, given away or stored.” The ordinance can go into effect anytime the city issues a Drug Loitering Letter for a specific property or area.
The current letter ends July 17, according to Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski.
“Due to the presence of numerous video surveillance cameras, as well as CATA security guards, Lansing police officers and federal agencies who regularly patrol the property, the number of drug-related crimes on CATA property is relatively low,” Yankowski said.
Yankowski said that the ordinance has been in use by the city for about 15 years.
Determining whether a person is loiter ing requires a police officer to talk to the person in question, Yankowski said, adding that people waiting for buses are not considered loitering. Those loitering will be issued a warning prior to a ticket, he said.
As of June 25, the station and surrounding area have witnessed eight drug-related complaints, resulting in two drug related arrests.
While there are signs posted on the north and south entrances to the building, there are no notices that the area is under a Drug Loitering Letter. CATA officials said the no-loitering signs were posted in February 2014.
“I’d like to see the city solve their drug problems in a different way,” Hays said. “Just make it more public. They should inform people about this.”