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Sarasota Homeless, Vagrant Crackdown Leads to 55 Arrests

Sarasota police are targeting the Selby Library and Five Points Park area for arrests of violations of city ordinances where homeless tend to congregate.

As Sarasota city officials and police look for a way to discourage vagrants and homeless from congregating and sleeping around Selby Library and Five Points Park, they're hoping that 55 arrests during a four-week span will help.

The had 55 arrests in the Five Points area during August, with charges ranging from illegal lodging (eight), disorderly conduct, open containers, panhandling, smoking on a non-smoking property, drugs and two people were arrested on warrants, said Police Captain Wade McVay Tuesday at the City Commission meeting.

The arrests come after residents and officials complained about aggressive panhandlers and what they classify as vagrants as opposed to homeless at .

That discussion led to Mayor Suzanne Atwell saying how she understood the situation at hand and that

She took time to clarify her statement Tuesday saying that "this is not an alarmist call. It's a call for action."

"We are a fabulous downtown and of course we want people to come here," Atwell said. "… Look what's happened in the past four weeks. This is exactly what we need. It's not a global issue. It's a downtown issue."

The City Attorney will now work with the Sarasota Police Department to craft legislative remedies on the downtown vagrant issue after a 5-0 vote authorized the move, along with an additional vote for a regular update by the police on the issue.

Despite all those arrests, it's an ordinance designed to allow police to arrest people sleeping on sidewalks that's giving officials headaches. 

Ordinance "30-3 as it stands today is of no use to us," Lt. Randy Boyd told the commission Tuesday.

Ordinance 30-3 covers obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic and City Code states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to place or attempt to place or cause to be placed, himself or herself or any object of any nature or description upon or above any public way, sidewalk, footpath or other area used by the public for pedestrian or vehicular traffic in such a manner as to impede or interfere with the flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

The wording is vague enough, according to Boyd, that the police can't use it. Boyd said both the City Attorney and State Attorney office "made it very clear" that the sidewalk has to be clearly blocked in order to prosecute using that ordinance.

Police Chief Mikel Hollaway said there was an instance where City Attorney office said they could not prosecute a case related to that ordinance. 

It boils down to semantics, according to Boyd.

"Our City Code on that is sufficient. It just needs to be reworded, reworked so that we can prosecute with it," Boyd said. Basically, what's the difference between impeding, interfering and blocking.

Hollaway, who is set to retire in October, added that the situation with the ordinance relates to a bigger issue of making sure the city's attorneys and police are on the same page when crafting laws.

"I think the new chief and his staff when presented with problems when it comes with ordinance, not state statues, will have to work more closely with our city attorney," Hollaway said.

Part of the attorney's new authorization also includes the ability to examine whether St. Petersburg's law to arrest people sleeping on sidewalks could be used in Sarasota.

Richard M. Swier September 05, 2012 at 10:26 AM
Excellent. Kick out the bums and restore civil order to downtown Sarasota.
Michael Raffoni September 05, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Nice start... now, providing the City Attorney and Police are not given coinflicting instructions and have the tools they need, we (residents, business owners and employees) must help keep the momentum going.
Don McKeon September 05, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I don't see much mention of loitering in these discussions. Wiki tells us... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loitering My car has a two hour limit on a parking spot, but no limit if I wish to move onto the corner of Main and Lemon.
Richard M. Swier September 05, 2012 at 02:24 PM
I like Don's idea. We charge the bums for occupying the space. Like street vendors the bum must offer a meaningful product or service. They must be licensed. The fees would be donated to the Salvation Army. ;-)
Claire Franklin September 05, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Arresting people who break the law is a much better way of dealing with this issue than removing park benches and stopping the public from enjoying the park space. Now let's bring back the benches please!!!
Leslie Tetrault September 05, 2012 at 03:39 PM
I hope you are without a home someday. you deserve it
Leslie Tetrault September 05, 2012 at 03:40 PM
being without a home is breaking the law. in boston people homeless or not are allowed on all park benches.
Leslie Tetrault September 05, 2012 at 03:41 PM
hail hitler!
Leslie Tetrault September 05, 2012 at 03:42 PM
I have seen many parks in New england and THEY ALL HAVE BENCHES. all PEOPLE are allowed to sit on them. we do not call people bums or vagrants here, just PEOPLE!
Cathy Morrison September 05, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I HOPE YOU ARE NEVER HOMELESS!!!!
Sheila Burns September 05, 2012 at 07:49 PM
I hope he is. Walking a mile in a man's shoes is the best teacher for those without a clue. BTW for anyone considering NOT voting for Obama again because of what he did NOT accomplish, that would be like not voting for a man because he had not found a cure for cancer (yet), and voting for cancer! This city & it's ruling elite (who can enforce their views with the back up of multiple attorney's and the police dept) are on the side of the "cancer".
Richard M. Swier September 05, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Cathy, What is your point? I have to be homeless to understand that a bum is a bum? I am not a bum and will do whatever it takes to not be a bum. I will work at any job to have some sense of dignity as a human and not become human trash or a detriment to my family or community.
Richard M. Swier September 05, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Are you saying that the Obama economic policies are creating more homeless? Are you saying that the growth of programs that make people dependent on the government rather than themselves is creating more homeless? If so I totally agree!
Sheila Burns September 05, 2012 at 09:13 PM
what I am saying is that narcissistic people with no empathy for anyone other than those like themselves are a detriment to our society. Those who see the disadvantaged as "human trash" & do nothing to help (resenting the imposition of another's need) do not indicate someone with a sense of human dignity but merely vain selfish pride in their own opportunities/accomplishments, often gained at the expense & on the backs of others.
Richard M. Swier September 05, 2012 at 09:19 PM
I am sorry but I am not my brother keeper. I am responsible for myself and my family. If I take care of that then there is no need to have anyone else or government to take care of me. I suggest that individuals must be responsible for themselves. If you want to help a bum then give him a job. If he refuses the work you offer then he does not deserve your sympathy.
Lisa Ledwith September 06, 2012 at 06:58 AM
Mr. Swier, I beg to differ with you! You Sir are a bum, in my humble opinion you are the worst form of a bum. While I agree, the "People" should not be allowed to sleep on the benches, nor camp out down town begging for money, because there are options for most, you Sir, have no morals, no dignity, no heart. ALL people, homeless or not are human-beings, "all people." You are exactly the reason the world is the way it is, SAD. I feel very sorry for you. ONE DAY, you will answer with your stone cold and broken heart. I will remember you in my prayers for those who are down and out, poor and homeless. Lisa Ledwith Sarasota
Kristine Von Hammertron September 06, 2012 at 01:16 PM
We have been given someone else's problem, the current crop of homeless people downtown are not even local, they were cleared out of Tampa ahead of the RNC and dumped in Sarasota in the middle of the night and we need to put them all right back on a bus and send them back. They are not the friendly guitar strumming street people we are used to.
Michael Raffoni September 06, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Let's all not forget there is a difference between truely being "homeless" due to circumstances and selecting a vagrant "lifestyle" - which is what we are now experiencing here in our city. There are great establishments and programs available for those seeking a step up. All too many of our "new" transients are not at all interested in these programs and are more interested in the "cottage industry" of food stamp trading, drugs, alcohol and aggressive panhandling. If you don't believe this, you simply have not been paying attention or are ignorant to the facts. Sheila/Cathy - nice sympathetic thoughts, but misplaced in my opinion. Do you live and work in our downtown area? Have you patronized our many fine downtown cafes and restaurants in the evenings and actually walked the town? How do you think our business owners feel about their patrons being harrassed or stepping over folks? That's where your sympathies should lie - with the tax paying, responsilble citizens that have made an investment in our City.
Deborah Weatherby September 06, 2012 at 03:11 PM
ditto, the salvation army offers shelter for free, IF YOU AGREE NOT TO DO DRUGS OR DRINK ALCHOHOL on the premises, otherwise you have to pay. Check out the railroad tracks behind central ave, there are hundreds of transient vagrants hanging out, partying with drugs and alcohol and yes there are programs to help them but they don't want them. There is a difference between homeless and vagrant lifestyle, heck if I was a "bum" Sarasota is a great place to come..
Robert September 06, 2012 at 04:06 PM
I am glad that an effort is being made to handle this issue. In a perfect world everyone would be shiny and happy. However, the bum festival near the library is ridiculous. When these vagrants are harassing users of the library don't we all know that this problem needs a solution? For those of you who like it: would you like these fine folks to hang out in your front and back yard at 3 a.m. I think not! If you are ok with with these fine examples on your property: I will personally bring them right over. Bravo for the proactive stance.....
nancy September 07, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Homeless Yeah Richard. And incidentally there is a place for the homeless, vagrants and mentally I'll to hang out on Kumquat off Central. A nice building where they can lounge or play cards or educate those not in the know how to use the system. There are several feeding programs, FREE notably the Salvation Army which serves incredibly good food lunch and dinner. There is the pharmaceutical trailer on 1st street where my friend and nurse contributes time, there is clean clothes for them every day and let,s not forget - the beautiful Mediterranean Health Department on Ringling. All one has to have is a address, even a friend's address can be used to get dental, medical or pharmeceuticals for little or no cost. The Mexicans & families know of the health dept. One difference between them and the vagrants: they want to work, don't loiter, don't pan-handle, don't fight in public on and on ad nauseum.
Ronald Smith September 09, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Why has there not been one mention of these arrests in the local newspaper? There was also zero coverage of the town hall meeting on the new Wal-mart which is being planned for Ringling Blvd. If I didn't read Patch I would never have known about these two items of interest that are very close to where I live. As far as the homeless, there are a few who become intimidating when they panhandle. I really don't like being asked for money when I'm walking downtown. I can see how some elderly or women could feel these queries were not really a request. Something needs done, but what?

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