City to stop enforcing public camping rule, pending review

Enforcement » Police chief said he wants to look at records to determine if officers are improperly citing people.
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A day after advocates for the homeless staged a "sleep-in" to protest laws that allow police to ticket people for sleeping in public parks, the city's police chief announced he is suspending enforcement of the statute until the policy can be reviewed.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank also said the department was wrong in saying no one had been cited for sleeping in public parks. In fact, about 30 citations were issued under the city's "no camping" ordinance and another 440 tickets under three related statutes over the past year.

"There are several codes under which officers may enforce against sleeping or camping in public parks and spaces, and yesterday we reviewed only one of them," Burbank said.

Burbank met Friday with protest organizer Bill Tibbetts, anti-hunger project director for Crossroads Urban Center, to thank him for raising valid concerns about the issue.

Burbank said he plans to review city laws and tickets to determine whether police are improperly citing people for "just laying down and taking a nap" to ensure "all members of our community are treated with the dignity they deserve."

"If they are putting out a blanket to have a nap, that is an appropriate use of our parks," he said. But those who attempt to set up a tent or stay overnight will continue to be cited, he said.

Burbank said he hopes to complete his review by mid-summer.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker supports the review, said spokeswoman Lisa Harrison Smith.

Crossroads Urban Center and other advocacy agencies organized the sleep-in to protest harassment and ticketing of homeless people who seek shelter in public parks during the day. Tibbetts asked that police not enforce the law from April 1 to Nov. 1. That's when an overflow homeless facility is closed, limiting shelter space.

Tibbetts said Thursday that enforcing the code criminalizes homelessness and has been found to be "cruel and unusual punishment" in other states.

On Friday, Tibbetts said he was "surprised" by Burbank's swift action and public acknowledgement of the data error. He thanked the chief for "responding so quickly to the concerns of some of the most marginalized people."

Because city parks are generally closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., people who don't want to stay or can't find room in a shelter often end up walking around the city all night, he said.

It's not surprising that, once parks are open again, they then lie down and go to sleep, Tibbetts said.