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Dover City Council considering expanding loitering ordinance prohibition

Milton Pratt
Delaware Public Media

Dover’s City Council is considering whether to expand the reach of the city’s prohibition on loitering — part of a statewide trend towards stricter loitering ordinances in Delaware municipalities.

Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson appeared before council last month to outline several options for updating Dover’s approach to prohibiting loitering.

Currently, Dover city code only prohibits loitering in public parks and does not allow officers to issue citations for loitering in most of downtown Dover – something many council members would like to make possible.

Johnson told council it could simply expand the current prohibition on loitering in parks to cover the entire city. But he also suggested Dover could copy language from Delaware’s criminal code that lists a half-dozen types of loitering offenses, including blocking a sidewalk or panhandling.

“The easiest recommendation I can offer council is to use much of the language used in the state statute because it’s already peer-reviewed and court-tested," he said.

However — in part because local ordinances targeting or prohibiting panhandling have been struck down in federal courts — Johnson notes that the council could opt to leave out some elements of the state’s statute.

“If there’s any language in any of those areas that’s of concern to any council members, just take it out before you adopt a final version of the ordinance," he said.

The ACLU of Delaware launched a campaign to repeal the state statute penalizing panhandling last year.

Councilman Andre Boggerty urged the police department to provide regular reports on the demographics of people cited or arrested for loitering under any new ordinance.

“I want to make sure this ordinance is being administered fairly," he said, "[and] that if we’re treating it as lower-level, that all individuals are issued lower-level unless they are frequent fliers.”

As the council drafts a new ordinance, it will also decide whether to increase the penalty for loitering beyond a citation and a fine.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.