The Spokane Police Department wants to regain the authority to arrest people who are in city parks after hours.
“We need to gain control of the parks,” police Cpt. Thomas Hendren told the Spokane City Council on Monday, citing concerns about groups engaging in violent and other illegal activity overnight at local parks.
The ordinance, introduced during a Monday City Council committee meeting and supported by the city Parks and Recreation Department, would make being in city parks after hours a misdemeanor that could warrant arrest.
It is against city law to be in Riverfront Park between midnight and 6 a.m., or 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for all other city parks. Violating the rule, however, is a civil infraction with no threat of jail time.
Prior to 2018, violating any park rules was a misdemeanor.
During a revision that year, focused primarily on drug and weapon laws, most other park rules became a civil infraction, which Parks Director Garrett Jones called an oversight.
Violating most park rules, including being there after hours, is punishable with the highest level of a civil infraction, class 1. It carries a fine of $261, as much as concealed pistol license violations, selling drug paraphernalia, littering and employment or housing discrimination. Crimes with lower penalties include open consumption of marijuana, noise violations and possession of tobacco by a minor.
But the threat of arrests are necessary, Hendren argued, to “take back the parks at night.”
“Right now … we do not have authority to do anything if people are not compliant,” he said.
“Most people, if I’m in the parks after hours and an officer tells me to leave, you don’t have to tell me twice, I’m going to go.
“That is not who we’re talking about who are causing the bulk of these problems.”
City Council President Breean Beggs proposed an alternative ordinance that would bring back the threat of a misdemeanor and arrest, but only after officers had issued a warning.
Hendren argued that this was unworkable, however, because people would still gather in the parks knowing that they wouldn’t have to leave until after they had been warned.
“These people that we’re dealing with, involved in these groups, are often very violent, very dangerous,” Hendren said.
“I can’t send just one or two officers to give them a warning; they will challenge us.
“Unfortunately, we see this insolent behavior with a lot of these groups that cause us a lot of these problems.”
The threat of an immediate arrest, on the other hand, would deter groups from gathering in the first place, Hendren argued.
The ordinance went before the city Equity Subcommittee on Tuesday and will work with that group on honing the particulars of the law, Jones said in a brief Tuesday interview. He expected the law would not come before the City Council for a vote until mid-June.