City may repeal loitering restriction

City leaders called the law outdated and redundant at a public hearing.

Benjamin Farniok

Despite some pushback, city officials are continuing efforts to repeal laws they consider obsolete.
Several members of the Minneapolis City Council want to do away with an ordinance that allows police to arrest or break up crowds on city sidewalks. 
While proponents say the change will prevent police abuse of the law, the move has spawned discussions among officers and business owners.
The current law makes it illegal for three or more people to loiter on a public sidewalk in a way that obstructs pedestrian traffic.
At a public hearing last week, Ward 5 City Council member Blong Yang said he was concerned about the ordinance’s constitutionality, adding the law is rarely enforced with only a handful of convictions and arrests in the last five years.
“It just screams of First Amendment violations,” Yang said.
Ward 2 City Council member Cam Gordon said other laws make the ordinance redundant, and the vague wording leaves it open for abuse.
The new move is part of a push to reexamine laws that are poorly worded or unnecessary, said Ward 8 City Council member Elizabeth Glidden. 
“It is a rule that everyone violates every day,” she said regarding the sidewalk ordinance. 
Gordon said a group of people could break the rule by waiting for a bus in a group of three.
He said this repeal has faced far less pushback than his repeal of the city’s lurking and spitting ordinance, and many Minneapolis police told him they actually favor the change. 
Those convicted under the ordinance may also suffer other consequences later, Gordon said, like trouble finding work and housing.
Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said the law is rarely cited. 
However, he said he wanted to ensure the city would listen to more voices on the issue. 
“They should certainly look at when it’s been enforced and why it’s been enforced,” he said.
University of Minnesota Police Chief Matt Clark said at a Dinkytown Business Alliance meeting that the repeal would take another tool away from officers, similar to the repeal of spitting and lurking last year. 
Randal Gast, owner of Dinkytown’s Qdoba restaurant, said if the ordinance isn’t working, it should be replaced. 
“I want to make sure the police have the proper tools to do the job they are charged with,” Gast said. “If that’s a bad tool, then it needs to be replaced.”
At the hearing, three people took the stand to give their opinions on the repeal.
The repeal passed unanimously by a committee after the hearing, and the full City Council will consider the measure on Friday.