Elgin gives initial OK to ban 'chronic nuisances' offenders

The city of Elgin is expected to implement a trial ban of certain "chronic nuisance" offenders from its public parks and downtown area but might discuss installing public toilets to help curb the problem.

The city council's committee of the whole on Wednesday unanimously approved the proposed ordinance, which aims to address public intoxication, urination, defecation and more caused by a group of up to 15 individuals, more than half homeless, according to city officials. The ordinance would have a two-year trial.

"Let me make it clear that this ordinance does not make it a crime to be homeless," City Manager Rick Kozal said. "There is no offense with that."

The ordinance would ban for 90 days initially, and later for 180 days, individuals found guilty of three nuisances in a one-year period. Violating the ban would trigger a criminal trespass charge, punishable by up to six months in jail.

Nuisance behaviors would include public intoxication, possession of open containers of alcohol, drug-related offenses, public indecency such as nudity, urination and defecation, aggressive panhandling, prostitution, disorderly conduct, sitting or lying on sidewalks, littering and vandalism.

Councilman Terry Gavin called it "anti-social behavior."

"You can't bend society to a few people who are incorrigible," he said.

Councilwoman Rose Martinez agreed, saying, "We are trying to improve our image and it's very difficult when we have a handful that are creating this nuisance."

But there also should be a concerted effort to provide social services to such individuals, Councilwomen Carol Rauschenberger and Tish Powell said. "I still don't want us to forget that we are talking about other humans," Powell said.

The individuals in question typically either refuse help or don't follow through with services, according to senior management analyst Laura Valdez-Wilson. To address that, the police department just kicked off new "street-level case management" to be provided by two community service officers, she said.

Downtown property owners Jerri McCue and Grace Richard said they support the nuisance ordinance.

"Public indecency, when people take down their pants in the middle of the street to defecate, is something that is criminal activity," Richard said. "The people who are providing the money for those social services are the very people who are becoming the victims of this criminal element."

Mayor David Kaptain exhorted council members to consider installing public toilets - which can cost $90,000 a piece - because the homeless have no place to go after hours.

"If you don't want people going to the bathroom outside in your city, put public bathrooms and maintain them," Kaptain said.

Resident Todd Martin said he applauds the intent of the ordinance but has concerns about a provision prohibiting the homeless from storing belongings in public places. "Being homeless is not a crime, and having possessions is part of life," he said.

Martin also said he's concerned about the constitutionality of the proposed ordinance. Edwin C. Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, echoed that.

The ordinance "appears to be little more than a misguided effort to criminalize poverty, substance abuse and homelessness. It treats those seeking money for personal use like suspects while permitting other groups or organizations to act in the exact same way," Yohnka said. "The city would be wise to put its efforts into providing appropriate social services rather than further burden a criminal justice system that is broken and will not solve these problems."

Councilmen John Steffen and John Prigge said they hoped the new ordinance wouldn't prompt those who are classified as chronic nuisances to start congregating in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.

"I'm willing to try this, but this is going to absolutely have to be watched," Prigge said.

Elgin may ban repeat 'nuisance' offenders from downtown

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