Ruling unlikely to affect Milwaukee ordinances

Ruling unlikely to affect Milwaukee ordinances
City’s laws are more site- and activity-specific
By James H. Burnett III
of the Journal Sentinel staff
June 11, 1999

In spite of Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Chicago anti-loitering ordinance aimed at keeping gang members from congregating, Milwaukee’s anti-loitering laws are likely to remain intact, city officials say.

“It was a gang-loitering ordinance,” Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley said of Chicago’s now defunct law. “We do not have a similar ordinance. We do have other various types of (anti-loitering) ordinances. We have tried to make our ordinances very site-specific and activity-specific.”

According to the Supreme Court, Chicago’s ordinance, enacted in 1992 and enforced for three years before being struck down by the state high court, didn’t give people adequate notice prior to penalty of what they were doing wrong.

The Chicago ordinance required police to order any group of people standing around “with no apparent purpose” to move along if an officer believed at least one of them belonged to a street gang. Those who disregarded the order would be arrested.

Langley said Milwaukee loitering ordinances include loitering of minors (during curfew hours); loitering or prowling (near residences, public rest rooms, schools; public buildings or restaurants and taverns); loitering – soliciting prostitutes; and loitering – illegal drug activity.

The measures were designed to be specific in part to protect innocent people from being accidentally slapped with loitering charges, Langley said.

Milwaukee Common Council President John Kalwitz agreed, insisting that Chicago’s was an inadvertently dangerous ordinance.

“However well-intended, the Chicago ordinance was too vague and gave police officers too much discretion,” Kalwitz said, referring to the 45,000 arrests made in the three years the Chicago law was enforced.

“Too many innocent people were caught up in this, mistakenly. Milwaukee doesn’t seem to be in any jeopardy regarding the (Supreme Court) decision. Our ordinances really were designed to avoid those broad generalizations.”

Michele Bria, director of the Journey House, 1900 W. Washington St., an organization that has pushed for more anti-gang legislation, said Milwaukee loitering ordinances have had a positive affect on her neighborhood. Journey House is a non-profit organization providing social services.

“I’ve had students and staff, dressed nice, waiting for the bus, be solicited,” Bria said. “Police enforcement helps alleviate these people driving through our neighborhoods looking for (prostitutes).

“It has made our neighborhood a safer place for families and for kids to play outside.”

Ryan Slabaugh of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 11, 1999.

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