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Repeal city vagrancy ordinance, interim RPD chief advises

Jun 29, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The Riverton Police Department has proposed the city repeal its current vagrancy ordinance in order to protect the constitutional rights of citizens.

"We are not using this correctly," interim RPD chief Eric Murphy said.

The code states, "Any person able to work and to support himself in some honest or reputable calling, who shall be found within the corporate limits of the city loitering or strolling about, frequenting public places where liquor is sold, begging or leading an idle life, or not having any visible means of support, shall be deemed a vagrant and guilty of a misdemeanor."

"Idle life"

Council member Tim Hancock echoed Murphy's concerns, noting that it would be hard for officers to enforce the code as written because they would have to prove an individual is leading an "idle life."

"Some Saturdays I'm probably guilty of this," Hancock joked. "You've got so much vagueness in this that it would be impossible to enforce it."

Murphy agreed, saying he doesn't think his officers are trained to determine visibly whether a person has the means to support himself.

"I just don't feel comfortable with this ordinance with the way that it's written," Murphy said. "My suggestion is to repeal."

State's alternative

If the code is repealed, RPD will start using the state's panhandling law in situations where the vagrancy ordinance would have been utilized in the past, Murphy said.

"Typically when we cite for vagrancy, 99 percent of the times (the person is) panhandling," Murphy noted. "It's not even truly a vagrancy issue."

Panhandling relates to an individual asking for money, and the individual may or may not be homeless. By contrast, vagrancy mostly involves homeless people.

The proposed ordinance to repeal the vagrancy code will have a third and final reading at the council meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. June 29.

Calls

The RPD has handled multiple calls regarding vagrancy in recent months.

Michael Cousineau, 38, of Riverton, was arrested at about 8:10 a.m. Sunday, May 14, in the 2100 block of West Bend Drive for two counts of vagrancy. Reports state he tried to panhandle from several people and received $20 from a female who said she gave him the money because she was scared. Officials said Cousineau returned her money.

Thomas Brown, 45, of Riverton, was arrested at about 1:50 a.m. Wednesday, May 31, in the 600 block of North Federal Boulevard for vagrancy. RPD Capt. Todd Byerly said officers had made several contacts with Brown throughout the course of the day at the request of other citizens.

"He goes into a business, and we move him along," Byerly said. "Or he's strolling about the stree, and someone calls him in because he's milling about."

He noted that Brown was not intoxicated at the time of his arrest.

At about 8:15 a.m. June 4, Byerly said police responded to reports that a man had been in a bathroom at a business in the 2100 block of North Federal Boulevard for three hours. That person also wasn't intoxicated, and Bylery said he wasn't arrested.

"They were basically read the riot act on vagrancy and told they needed to move along," he said.

Bryant Bennett, 38, a transient, was arrested at about 11:15 a.m. Friday, June 9, in the 900 block of West Main Street for vagrancy. Reports state he had been "loitering" in stores in the area and had fallen asleep in one of the businesses.

"That was one of the many times we contacted him in the last several days," Byerly said.

- Staff writer Katie Roenigk

contributed to this report.

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