Thursday, November 17, 2011

Safety or Freedom To Walk At Night?

Picked up from the Germantown patch

Montgomery County Debate: Target Teens or All Who 'Prowl' After Hours?
Some raised concerns about potential racial profiling and the vagueness of a proposed anti-loitering and prowling bill.

By Tahira Lindsay

The ACLU Tuesday night called a proposed anti-loitering law in Montgomery County problematic and vague but other community leaders said it is a better way to curb youth crime than a teen curfew.

The Montgomery County Council heard from stakeholders about the measure at a public hearing.

Council members George Leventhal (D-At Large) and Phil Andrews (D-Dist 3) proposed Bill 35-11 in October as an alternative to a controversial teen curfew introduced by County Executive Isiah Leggett in July.

The anti-loitering bill prohibits certain loitering and “prowling,” while the teen curfew makes it a civil offense for residents under the age of 18 to be in public after midnight on weekends and after 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Youth can be issued fines of up to $100 if they ignore police warnings.

Andrews, a vocal opponent of the curfew, along with Leventhal, wrote a bill that prevents anyone from being in a public space “at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding persons under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of the persons or property in the vicinity.”

In a memorandum to the County Council dated Oct. 19, Andrews, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, wrote:

“Unlike a youth curfew, a loitering and prowling law wouldn't discriminate based on age, wouldn't be limited to late-night hours when a small percentage of youth crime and overall crime occurs, and would target criminally suspicious behavior by anyone, rather than making it illegal (with exceptions) for certain people (youth) to be in public after hours.”

Opponents of the loitering bill said the measure would criminalize innocent people and could result in racial profiling.

Montgomery County ACLU Co-Chair Mike Mage testified that the bill is too vague and doesn't let people know what is prohibited and what is permissible under the law. The result, he said, would be detaining people without probable cause.

Rebecca Samondrawski, executive board member of the Montgomery County Council of the PTA, said she supports the loitering bill.

“It is a measured and targeted approach to addressing suspicious or menacing behavior that is a threat to people or property and allows the authorities to use their discretion in addressing possible issues,” she said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Andrews says Bill 35-11 is written as a “reform effort” and modeled after laws in Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin.

The public safety committee will continue to discuss the anti-loitering bill at a meeting on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 9 a.m.

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