City Councilman seeks repeal of 15 ordinances in Lansing

Jackson to pitch ‘actionable items for police reform’ on Monday

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(This story was updated at 6:02 p.m.)

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 3 — The Lansing City Council will consider a proposal  from Fourth Ward Councilman Brian Jackson that aims to repeal more than a dozen city ordinances, including laws that prohibit drug paraphernalia, loitering, begging and “annoying” behavior.

“It is coming now as I try to think of actionable items for police reform,” Jackson said, noting he sent the proposals to the Council today and hopes to discuss them at Monday meeting. “Limiting unnecessary police contact is important to prevent bad encounters.”

Jackson’s proposal aims to jumpstart discussions that could eventually lead to the repeal or amendment of 15 separate ordinances that he thinks carry a disparate impact on certain segments of the local population or are simply unnecessary. He hopes to trigger a conversation on Monday that leads to a more thorough review involving input from local residents and the Police Department.

“These ordinances are all misdemeanors punishable by 90 days in jail, $500 fine and two years of probation. It is in the best interest of the City and its residents to repeal these ordinances,” Jackson wrote. “It is unfair to community members and law enforcement to allow the police to use its sole discretion on whether to investigate or arrest a person for the petty conduct below.”

Misdemeanors lead to incarceration, job loss, family separation and expensive fines and the City Council has an obligation to “carefully craft” ordinances so as to infringe constitutional rights, Jackson explained in a memo attached to his recent proposal.

The proposed changes will likely be referred to a the City Council's Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for further review, said Council President Peter Spadafore. Mayor Andy Schor and Police Department officials didn't respond to emails today.

Here are the ordinances that Jackson would like to repeal, and his rationale for each change:

622.01 Drug Paraphernalia

No person shall use, or possess with intent to use, drug paraphernalia to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture, compound, convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, pack, repack, store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled substance in violation of State or local law.

Reasons for repeal:

Drug addiction should be treated less criminally and more like the public health crisis that it is. There are other ordinances and state laws that target possession and use of controlled substances. Merely having suspected drug paraphernalia is not dangerous and should not be criminal. The City should encourage safe needle exchanges to promote public health. This ordinance further criminalizes drug addiction and does nothing to prevent drug abuse.

630.12. Loitering where controlled substances or drug paraphernalia is sold, used, etc.

No person shall knowingly loiter about any building, house, vacant lot, street, curb, lawn, alley, yard, apartment store, automobile, boat, boathouse, airplane or other place where controlled substances or drug paraphernalia is illegally sold, used, dispensed, furnished, given away or stored.

Reasons for repeal:

This ordinance is overbroad and disproportionately affects poor people living in their own neighborhoods. Studies show that people use drugs at similar rates by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. The difference is that wealthy people can use in their own residences away from the places that police patrol while poorer people generally cannot. Many people have limited housing choices and live near places where drugs are present. Under this ordinance, police may arrest certain residences who walk down the street, if that resident lives on a street or in a building where drugs are sold. Although it may not be the intent of the ordinance to arrest these types of people, police can still do it. People should not be subject to a stop and frisk just because of where they live. Also, there are other drug related ordinances and laws that cover drug use behavior (Possession of a controlled substance, use of controlled substance, sale/delivery/manufacture of controlled substance, others).

630.14. Loitering in places where prostitution or solicitation for lewd conduct occurs

No person shall knowingly loiter in or about any public place where an act of prostitution or solicitation for lewd conduct has occurred or is occurring. For the purpose of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

Reasons for repeal:

Similarly to 630.12, this ordinance allows for police to detain any person within an area where solicitation has occurred. This ordinance disproportionately affects poor people who do not have many housing options. This ordinance allows for a police investigation against anyone nearby, whether they are aware that solicitation occurred or not. There are other ordinances and laws that prohibit acts related to solicitation and prostitution.

650.04. Playing in streets

No minor shall engage in playing any game or congregate on any street or alley so as to interfere with the regular flow of vehicular traffic.

Reasons for repeal:

Children playing in the street is not an act worthy of a criminal misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail. There is no scenario where a LPD officer should cite or arrest any minor under this ordinance. Many kids, especially in poorer neighborhoods without large driveways or lawns, play outside in the street. This conduct is also prohibited in 658.04 (No person shall crowd, obstruct, or block the free or uninterrupted passage on, or use of, any street…).

656.04. Bicycle restrictions

No person shall ride a bicycle in Riverfront Park, between Kalamazoo Street on the south and Grand River Avenue on the north, when an organized event is taking place therein, which event is sponsored or cosponsored by the City. Such events include, but are not limited to, the Ethnic Festival, the Riverfest, the North Lansing Fun Fest, the Black Cultural Festival and the Mexican Festival.

Reasons for repeal:

People merely riding a bike on the River trial during a festival is not an act worthy of a criminal misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail. Biking on the River trial is a regular act that is not dangerous or malicious. Biking to a festival should be encouraged, not criminalized. This is an outdated ordinance that specifically names festivals that no longer occur in Lansing.

656.05. Persons in closed parks prohibited

Except as otherwise provided in this section, all City parks, including all parking lots that serve City parks within the City, shall be closed from dusk to dawn unless a City sponsored or approved activity at a lighted park is occurring.

Reasons for repeal:

This is not an act worthy of a criminal misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail. This ordinance punishes homelessness more than it keeps the public safe. Instead, LPD would better serve the public by conducting a welfare check on the person(s) to see if they are OK or in need of services. If that person is committing another crime, than LPD can act on that crime.

658.03. Annoying persons

No person shall: (a) Willfully annoy another person;

Reasons for repeal:

This ordinance is too vague, overreaching and likely unconstitutional. The Constitution requires criminal laws to state explicitly and definitely what conduct is punishable. This ordinance clearly doesn’t meet this standard because annoyingness is subjective and means different things to different people. Moreover, there are other ordinances and laws that prohibit the undesired annoying conduct (stalking, harassment, malicious use of telecommunications device, disturbing the peace, others).

658.06. Begging

No person shall beg in any public place or go door-to-door requesting donations for personal gain.

Reasons for Repeal:

The conduct prohibited punishes poverty and homelessness more than protect public safety. There is no scenario where merely “begging” is a public safety issue. If the person who is begging blocks traffic or becomes unruly, there are other criminal ordinances that could be used to remedy that scenario (obstructing right of way, disorderly person, littering, public intoxication, others). 

664.01. Disorderly; fighting; loud and boisterous conduct, breach of the peace.

No person shall: (b)Disturb the public peace and quiet by loud or boisterous conduct; 

Reasons for repeal:

Subsection (B) is overbroad and vague. Being loud and boisterous is too subjective. It does not clearly and explicitly define the prohibited conduct. This ordinance forces officers to use their discretion and subjective opinions on whose voice is load and boisterous and whose voices are not. It is in the best interest of the community and LPD not to have to make those decisions. There are other ordinance and laws that covers the unwanted behavior (disorderly person, disturbing the peace, obscene conduct, others).

664.02. Disturbance of assemblies.

No person shall disturb, without lawful authority, any public assembly or meeting of persons.

Reasons for repeal:

This ordinance is overbroad, vague and encroaches on protected First Amendment activities. The word “disturbs” is too broad and does not explicitly and definitely describe the prohibited conduct. This ordinance prohibits counter protests and other constitutionally protected behavior like freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. This ordinance is not “narrowly tailored to satisfy a compelling governmental interest” and therefore will not pass constitutional scrutiny and should be repealed.

680.03. - Offensive language or conduct

No person shall use profane, indecent or immoral language or indulge in indecent conduct in any building or on any property adjacent to any building in the City occupied as a public, private or parochial school.

Reasons for repeal:

This ordinance infringes on constitutionally protected First Amendment conduct as it restricts what and how people can express themselves. It is also vague in that the prohibited conduct is too subjective and not definitive where an ordinary citizen cannot know what language is prohibited or not. Also, this ordinance is unnecessary because the conduct is prohibited by other ordinances and laws (disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, profanity, and obscene conduct).

680.06. Borrowing from students

No person shall borrow or attempt to borrow any money or thing of value from any student in any public, private or parochial school or on any public, private or parochial school property in the City or during any time when any such student is going to or returning from any regularly scheduled session of such school, without first obtaining the written approval of the principal of such school or other person designated by the principal to issue such written approval.

Reasons for repeal:

This ordinance impedes on a person’s ability to make private agreements/contracts. This ordinance is overbroad because it prohibits protected non-criminal conduct. Under this ordinance, it is illegal for a student to borrow lunch money from another student. There are other ordinances and laws that prohibit the undesired behavior of asking students for money on school property (trespassing on school property, stalking-MCL 750.411h).

688.05. Climbing or defacing

No person shall climb, peel, cut, deface, remove, injure or destroy any tree, in any street, highway, park or grassplot of the City.

Reasons for repeal:

This ordinance prohibits climbing a tree in the park among other things. This act does not rise to that of a criminal misdemeanor. There are other ordinances and laws that prohibit destruction of trees shrubs and grassplots (Maliciously destroying or injuring trees, shrubs, grass…-MCL 750.382).

688.07. Animals, vehicles and bicycles on grassplots

No person shall bring animals, vehicles or bicycles onto any park or onto any grassplot in any street, or deface the grounds or vegetation therein.

Reasons for Repeal:

This ordinance prohibits people walking their dogs or riding their bike in the street or park. People violate this ordinance multiple times each day. This is not type of conduct that our community (or any) should consider criminal or worthy of 90 days in jail. The undesired conduct is also prohibited in other ordinances and laws (Maliciously destroying or injuring trees, shrubs, grass MCL 750.382).

696.02. Carrying weapons in public places.

No person shall carry any firearm, air rifle, bow and arrow, slingshot, crossbow or other dangerous weapon in any public place, subject to the following exceptions: (a)When it is in a case and is not loaded;(b)In the case of a bow or crossbow, when it is unstrung or encased, or when it is being carried under the direct supervision of authorized public recreational personnel; or(c)Where and as otherwise permitted by State law.

Reason for repeal:

This ordinance attempts to regulate the constitutionally protected conduct under the 2nd Amendment. State law exclusively regulates the carrying of firearms in public places and no municipal ordinance can supersede or circumvent a well-established state law. Subsection (C) does not save this ordinance, but speaks to the full extent of the City’s ability to regulate firearms in public which is basically to follow the state law.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 6:02 p.m. to reflect a recent change in Spadafore's plans to instead send the proposal to the City Council's Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion  rather than the Committee on Public Safety, per Jackson's request. 

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