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Boulder's "social misbehavior" proposal: Reasonable or a war against the homeless?

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Last August, we told you about a controversial portion of Boulder's ten year plan to fight homelessness: the targeting of so-called "unwelcoming behavior," much of it pinned to members of the community's homeless population.

Now, a Boulder City Council study group has taken on a very similar subject, tagged "social misbehavior" -- and the local branch of the ACLU is concerned that the effect of such a campaign could be to essentially criminalize homelessness. Photos and more below.

The issue is laid out in a PowerPoint presentation pertaining to the study group's meeting last night. The entire item is below, but one key slide describes the "problem" like so:

• Behavior by individuals congregating on the municipal campus has made the area inhospitable to others in the community.

• The behavior includes significant criminal activity. (646 citations in 12 months)

• The municipal campus is a valuable community resource that is not currently available to the majority of community members.

More specifics appear in the "social misbehavior" agenda item shared in a city council packet also on view here.

The document maintains that of the aforementioned 646 citations and arrests during the twelve months between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013, more than half of them -- 326 -- were for trespassing, failure to appear, failure to comply or contempt of court, suggesting to the authors that this defendant population "may not care very much about legal obligations."

Moreover, the packet reveals that "a relatively small number of individuals cause a disproportionately large percentage of the problems." Specifically, of 280 total defendants, thirty of them "were responsible for 220 of the 646 arrests and citations. Looked at another way, 11 percent of the defendants were responsible for 34 percent of the citations and arrests."

Hence, the folks behind the piece believe that tougher enforcement wouldn't be aimed at the homeless population in general, but only those who take part in "criminal behavior" and "fundamentally disregard the law."

Continue for more about Boulder's "social misbehavior" proposal, including original documents. Suggestions about how to deal with these actions include increased police patrol, expanding the rules of conduct in place at the Boulder Library to the entire municipal campus, new sentencing guidelines, panhandling bans in certain areas, such as University Hill, and the partial closure of the bandshell in Boulder's Central Park, which is said to have devolved into a "de facto campground" that makes its use by other members of the community impossible.

This approach has raised hackles at the ACLU of Colorado. Even before last night's meeting, the organization put out a statement discouraging the Boulder City Council "from adopting any measures that target the vulnerable by redefining otherwise legal behavior as criminal or that attempt to limit access and enjoyment of public spaces to those in the community that the Council deems 'respectable' and worthy of the privilege."

The ACLU goes on to say that "transients, panhandlers and people all types have been part of the Downtown Boulder scene for all of its history," and argues that the proposed restrictions -- ones that include "arrests, prosecutions, jail sentences and exclusion orders targeted directly at an ill-defined population" -- isn't supported by the arrest data cited above, since "the majority of arrests on the municipal campus were for technical rule violations that had no effect on the public's ability to enjoy the space."

The bottom line? "The ACLU of Colorado and its Boulder County Chapter oppose new laws that restrict peaceful activity and that provide tools for selective and arbitrary enforcement that threatens the rights of free speech, association and to simply be left alone and enjoy public spaces free of police harassment."

Look below to see the "social misbehavior" PowerPoint presentation and the info packet for yesterday's meeting. The pertinent section starts on page 31.

Boulder City Council Social Misbehavior PowerPoint Presentation

City of Boulder Study Session Packet

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our News archive circa August 2013: "Boulder to fight 'unwelcoming behavior' by homeless, other groups."

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