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Enforcement of Spokane sit-lie law stirs critics

Spokane police have issued 32 tickets since the first of the year enforcing a law making it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks and planters in the downtown area.

Capt. Brad Arleth said the citations were handed out to 22 people, with several of them getting more than one citation.

Two of the biggest offenders have criminal records for vehicle prowling, theft or burglary, he said.

Arleth reported the statistics on Monday to the Public Safety Committee of the Spokane City Council.

Council President Ben Stuckart said he is concerned about police enforcement of the new ordinance after he learned that an employee at the Downtown Library was approached by an officer while she was having a cigarette break.

Stuckart was one of three council members to vote against the ordinance, which passed 4-3.

Opponents said they feared the law would criminalize homelessness.

“I have concerns we are not using the law right,” Stuckart said during Monday’s committee meeting.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Joan Medina, who volunteers downtown, said police have been targeting homeless people.

Stuckart told her that he needs people who are unfairly targeted by police to file complaints. He said he needs examples of the law being used improperly in order to build a case for repealing the ordinance.

In an interview, Medina said the homeless are afraid to file complaints.

She said one shopper was warned by police after sitting down for a rest. Visitors to Spokane and employees working downtown have also been warned by police, Medina said in an interview.

Arleth, who was recently assigned to the downtown police substation, said he is working with his officers on a protocol for enforcing the sit-lie law.

He said offenders are initially given a warning. So far, police have issued 160 warnings, which result in the person’s name being entered into police records. A second violation could result in a citation, he said.

In the case involving the library employee, her name was not entered into police records as having received a warning. Arleth said he received another complaint from a downtown worker that mirrored the library employee’s complaint. That person’s name was not entered into police records either, he said.

The work of enforcement has been assigned to four officers who patrol the downtown area on foot.

One trouble spot last year was a planter area outside the Olive Garden Restaurant along Spokane Falls Boulevard.

The lawn in Riverfront Park just to the north has become a gathering spot for people who are hanging out downtown, but park security is in charge of enforcing park rules for that area, Arleth said.