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.