Bradenton council approves trespass ordinance for public property

nwilliams@bradenton.comJanuary 24, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Bradenton City Council approved the city's first trespass ordinance for city-owned property Wednesday, giving Bradenton police the power to ban offenders from public property.

Bradenton police requested the ordinance in December as part of its effort to ban lawbreakers and troublemakers from the skate park at Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton.

The multimillion dollar riverfront attraction opened in October.

Police said fights and other incidents involving nonskateboarders have occurred at the park. A tower has since been set up at the skate park to help officers monitor the crowds.

The vote passed 4-1 but was met with much opposition from citizens during a public hearing at City Hall.

Citizens were concerned with the language of the ordinance and its enforcement.

"This ordinance is vague and unconstitutional," said Charles Smith, a Palmetto City Commissioner who addressed himself as a member of the Manatee-Sarasota Southern Christian Leadership Council.

Geneva Prescha, a Palmetto resident and a member of the SCLC, said the ordinance will not completely ban troublemaking juveniles from the skate park.

"We know they will come back within a year," she said. "We're setting them up to get more involved in the juvenile justice system."

Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. was the only council member to vote against the ordinance because of its language. The remaining city council members said the ordinance was needed immediately as a public safety measure.

"We need something to protect people at that park," said Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo. "I have enough confidence in our police officers they will abide by what we wish."

To appease the concerns of Byrd and other citizens against the ordinance, the ordinance was amended to allow an offender 20 days to file an appeal rather than 10, and included language to grant an extension of an appeal hearing beyond 40 days if requested by the offender.

Though the ordinance is designed to curtail trouble at the skate park, it will be useful for all city-owned property.

Bob Cox, a city maintenance worker, spoke during the public hearing in support of the ordinance. Cox, who services multiple public buildings downtown, including the parking garage on 12th Street, told council members and Mayor Wayne Poston he's discovered drugs paraphernalia, human waste, homeless sleeping in the stairwells, even naked people in the city-owned garages.

"The problem is as soon as they tell them to leave, they walk to other side of building, wait for police to leave, and then come back," he said. "I would not want my wife in that garage by herself, or any of my children."

Cox said he feared people, mainly women, would be attacked in city-owned garages by repeat trespassers.

"With the trespass law, the police will be able to tell people to stay away and they mean business," he said. "They don't take it seriously. They laugh at me."

Council passed a second motion to receive a full report on the progress of the ordinance at a July 17 council meeting.

Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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