BRADENTON -- A trespass ordinance for public property is nonexistent in the city of Bradenton, but that could change by the end of January.
To weed out troublemakers at the new skate park on the Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton, police are asking city officials to authorize officers to issue trespassing citations.
Bradenton City Council will hear the first reading of the proposed ordinance Wednesday. City council members will then decide whether to advertise a public hearing. Once a date is set, there would be a second reading prior to the public hearing, after which council members could vote to implement the ordinance.
"We're just looking for compliance," said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski. "We're looking to make the park safer from people who we know come there time after time and instead of enjoying the park, they want to cause trouble. It's a message to get them away from the park."
Bradenton police Officer Tony Cerniglia made the request during a Bradenton City Council workshop in December.
Right now, Bradenton officers don't have authority to issue trespass citations on city-owned property.
Cerniglia, who patrols downtown Bradenton, said hundreds of people are routinely converging at the skate park Friday and Saturday nights, the majority being nonrecreational visitors using the area as a hangout spot. An ordinance, which Cerniglia compared to those already existing in Sarasota, Tampa and St. Petersburg, would allow officers to issue citations for misconduct and ban violators from returning to the park for an extended period of time.
Local skaters Jessie Douglas, 24, Anthony Gardner, 19, and Tyler Forbes, 17, said crowds at the skatepark have grown out of control. On numerous occasions, their belongings, equipment, skateboards and bikes have been stolen. Banning nonrecreational users at the park would be an asset, they say.
Gardner said fights have broken out between skaters and nonusers when the nonusers fail to use skatepark etiquette.
"They stand in your way," he said. "You'll run into them and they'll want to fight you, but they're in your way."
"They don't have anything else to do," Douglas said.
A tower has been set up at the skate park to help officers monitor the crowds, and the ordinance would allow officers to issue trespassing citations on all city-owned property.
Bradenton may have to proceed with caution. The cities of Sarasota and St. Petersburg were involved in heavy litigation for their trespass ordinance policies.
In April, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the city of Sarasota for attempting to remove homeless people from city sidewalks.
In October 2011, a federal court ruled homeless plaintiffs had valid claims in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of St. Petersburg's trespassing ordinance. The lawsuit suggests the ordinance violated their rights to freedom of movement and procedural due process. "That court case in St. Pete upheld, and now you have to give them due process," said Bradenton City Attorney Bill Lisch.
Police say an ordinance is needed to establish order at the popular hangout spot. "It's just another tool in the tool box," Radzilowski said. "Ban somebody rather than give them a criminal record."