Tuesday, September 25, 2018

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Keeping the public good: Changes to city ordinance could help police maintain order in party-happy neighborhoods

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    Eau Claire police Chief Deputy Chad Hoyord says damage to vehicles are the types of property crimes seen in the the Randall Park and 3rd Ward neighborhoods, where college students live and many parties take place.

    Contributed photo

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    Hoyord

    Contributed photo

A tool to help Eau Claire police officers better respond to problems associated with excessive alcohol and drug use could soon be added to their arsenals.

Amendments to an existing ordinance will come before Eau Claire City Council members on Tuesday for an introduction in an update to the public good order ordinance first adopted in 1953.

Changes to the ordinance would allow officers to issue citations against people yelling, disturbing or annoying others in a public place, causing physical neighborhood disruption, or being publicly intoxicated. Furthermore, the changes update an established ordinance against loitering in public or private places. Public behavior violations could net fines of $295, including court costs. 

Proposed ordinance changes also restrict vehicles for hire to dropping off no more than 10 people in certain neighborhoods.

“It provides officers a tool that they really don’t have right now,” said assistant city attorney Jenessa Stromberger, who drafted the ordinance updates.

Stromberger said in a memorandum that the city heard concerns from residents, UW-Eau Claire administration and others related to behavior apparently related to excessive alcohol consumption.

She cited data that ranked Eau Claire as the ninth drunkest city in America in 2016, and UW-Eau Claire as the college campus in the nation with the 17th-highest arrest number related to drugs and alcohol in 2013. She further stated that between May 1, 2017, and Feb. 9, 2018, Eau Claire police responded to 2,364 alcohol-related incidents.

The highest number of crimes in the west district occur in the Randall Park neighborhood, said Chad Hoyord, Eau Claire police chief deputy of patrol. That neighborhood extends from the Chippewa River west to Mayo Clinic Health System and south to Water Street.

Although the proposed changes would impact the entire city, there is still an implication for UW-Eau Claire students because a swath of student housing is located in the Randall Park neighborhood.

“Crimes are being committed, and a lot are property crimes, and a lot of it is driven because of alcohol consumption,” Hoyard said, noting that some of the crimes relate to items being taken, damage to vehicles, windows being broken, mirrors being broken off, people leaving items in yards and people damaging lawn ornaments or decorations, or throwing them into the street.

Katy McGarry, UW-Eau Claire Student Senate president, said there are still many questions that remain about how an ordinance would affect students. Additionally, she voiced frustration that the Student Senate wasn’t involved in discussions about the ordinance changes from the start, considering its impact on students. 

“We would have like to be part of the formulation process,” she said.

Ordinance changes

The existing ordinance already makes it unlawful for people to loiter on streets or sidewalks, bridges, crossings or other public places, or prevent or annoy other people trying to pass by.

But the changes go further to prevent loitering in any building or structure if the person isn’t using the building for its purpose, whether that’s public or private space.

Hoyord said the yelling and physical disruption clause came up become of concerns from neighborhood associations in which residents have complained about noise at night. 

“People are walking up and down the sidewalks, and they’re yelling, and it’s disruptive,” Hoyord said. 

While some have argued that this behavior already falls under disorderly conduct, Hoyord said, there are other criteria that have to be met for someone to be cited for that.

Stromberger said these ordinance changes respond to problems that haven’t needed to be addressed by an ordinance before now. 

“We got enough concern from the neighborhoods, and the police saw enough of an issue with it that it merited an ordinance,” she said.

Along the same vein, the ordinance would restrict buses and vehicles from dropping off 10 or more people on a city block of the Third Ward and Randall Park neighborhoods between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.

The problem now, Hoyord said, is that large groups of people get dropped off in one location that no one has any connection to. Those people may wander, looking for a house party or some place to go.

Hoyord said sometimes police will get calls from renters throwing a small party who got overwhelmed by hoards of people coming into the residence.

“We receive calls saying, “Help. Get these people out of here. We can’t get them out,’” Hoyord said.

Physical neighborhood disruption could be any sign that alcohol was excessively consumed at a location; for example, cups, cans or other trash outside a residence, or indoor chairs, tables and other items that are outside for longer than 24 hours. 

Officers also would be able to issue citations to anyone under the influence who is causing harm to themselves or others or who is causing a disturbance. The ordinance extends to people who show signs that they’re likely to engage in that behavior.

But Hoyord said officers aren’t going to be looking for someone who has been drinking.

“You would have to draw attention to yourself,” he said. “The intent is not to stand on the side of the street and stop everyone we see.”

Contact: 715-833-9206, elizabeth.dohms@ecpc.com, @EDohms_LT on Twitter


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