City Council Work Session

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Meeting Date: 05/08/2018  
From: Dan Musselman, Interim Police Chief

Discussion of Camping Ordinance
Leave the camping ordinance the way it currently is written so it is enforceable and able to withstand any legal challenges and remains an effective tool to combat the real risk and danger of forest fires
The camping ordinance was passed in 2005 to provide for the safety, harmonious use, and well-being of all users of city property. The ordinance prohibits the storage of personal belongings and placement of structures on public property within the city limits for living accommodation purposes, thus limiting the dangers of forest fires, littering, and overuse and abuse of public property.  The Police Department previously provided information to Council on the ordinance and enforcement efforts.  Upon completion of the presentation Council wanted further discussion of this ordinance, an exploration of similar ordinances in the Southwest, and research on what other communities are doing to address the homeless issue. The City Attorney's office feels the existing Ordinance should be left whole or repealed in its entirety, as any further changes will make the Ordinance un enforceable and more susceptible to legal challenges.
This ordinance was first passed in October of 2005.  In 2009 it was revisited by council and the severity of the crime was lessened from a class one misdemeanor to a class three misdemeanor.  The current ordinance reads as follows:
It is unlawful for any individual to camp on public property within the Flagstaff city limits unless specifically authorized by law. For this section, the term "camping" means the use of any city property or any undeveloped, unimproved county, state, and federal property for living accommodation purposes, including, but not limited to, activities such as:
(1)    Sleeping activities or making preparations to sleep including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping;
(2)    Storing personal belongings;
(3)    Making any fire, other than in a fire or barbecue pit provided by the City for such use;
(4)    Using any tent, shelter, vehicle, or other structure for sleeping;
(5)    Cooking, other than in a fire or barbecue pit provided by the City for such use.

The above listed activities shall constitute camping when it reasonably appears, in light of all the circumstances, that the participants, in conducting such activities, are in fact using the area for living accommodation purposes, either as recreational camping or as a primary living space, and regardless of the intent of the participants or the nature of any other activities in which they may also be engaging. "Camping" shall be distinguished from those short term uses such as napping and picnicking that are characterized by brief and intermittent use of city property for recreational purposes during daylight hours.

C.    No person shall be arrested for a violation of this ordinance unless the person continues to engage in such conduct after warning by any police officer or authorized representative of the government entity responsible for such public property, or unless such property has been conspicuously posted with a warning of the provisions of this ordinance.

D.    For the purpose of this section " city property" shall mean all real property including appurtenances thereon which is owned, leased, or controlled by the City and shall include all improved or unimproved land, all public right of ways including trails, easements, public sidewalks and public parking lots.

E.    A violation of this section is a class 3 misdemeanor. Each day that a violation of this section continues shall constitute a separate offense.

F.    Necessity, as set forth in ARS 13-417, is a defense to prosecution under this Section.
The necessity defense found in ARS §13-417 has been incorporated into this ordinance. This defense reads that conduct that would otherwise be considered an offense shall be justified if a reasonable person felt compelled to engage in the conduct and had no reasonable alternative to avoid imminent public or personal injury.  The Council discussion at the time reflected concern that an individual who during the winter months was found sleeping in a sleeping bag to avoid freezing when shelters are full should not be held responsible for the crime of camping in the City limits. Concern was also expressed that an individual fleeing from an abusive relationship (such as domestic violence) should also not be held criminally liable under this ordinance-especially those individuals found sleeping in their vehicle. Officers were directed again to consider the totality of the circumstances to determine if a violation of this ordinance has occurred given the spirit of the ordinance. Sleeping alone does not constitute an offense, however setting up temporary shelter, cooking, campfires for warmth, etc may collectively establish a reason to believe a person is camping.

This ordinance is used sparingly as a tool by officers to help protect our forest and watershed.  Officers conduct wood watch patrols during the summer months to help keep the forested areas around the city free from litter and to reduce fire danger from illegal camp and cooking fires.  The Officers usually conduct fly overs to identify camps or follow up on reports from concerned citizens.  The following morning, they hike in to the camps, providing the occupants with a listing of social services and advising them of the ordinance.  Follow up is conducted within the next few days to make sure the camp has been removed.

The ordinance has also been enforced when citizens in neighborhoods or at businesses report people camping in vehicles for extended periods of time on public streets and in public right of ways such as along Lucky Lane.  

Officers with the Police Department make approximately 7,000 arrest per year for various violations of statutes and ordinances.  We have made 21 arrests for the camping ordinance over the past four years (four in 2013, nine in 2014, four in 2015, and four in 2016).  Camping arrests make up less than 1% of our total arrests.  Four of the 21 persons arrested had charges in addition to the camping violation.  Most suspects were issued a citation and released, rather than taken into custody.  Officers with the Flagstaff Police Department have issued dozens of warnings for camping violations (2013 - 26 warnings, 2014 - 70 warnings, 2015 - 47 warnings, 2016 - 60 warnings).

Camping Warning
Camping Ordinances Memo


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