The penalty for loitering in Prince George’s County is going to increase with new rules regarding the violation expected to lead to more citations in the near term.
The County Council on Nov. 20 unanimously passed new loitering rules that will take effect in January. Currently, officers issue up to a $100 fine or as long as 10 days confinement on a first offense and a $500 fine or as long as 30 days imprisonment on the second offense of loitering — defined as refusing to leave a private or public area and impeding the free use of the area by others. Repeat offenders continue to face the same penalty as second-time offenders.
Under the new system, officers will be able to offer a written warning. Officers often give people a verbal warning before giving out the first offense and the change will offer a more formal way of notifying people to cease loitering, said Maj. Robert Liberati, commander of the county police department’s forensic science division. That warning would then be followed by a larger $500 fine or 30 days in jail for a second offense, under the new rules. In addition, the new regulations also add an even stiffer penalty of as much as a $1,000 fine or up to 30 days imprisonment on a third offense, according to the new law.
The new law comes as loitering complaints have been on the rise across the county, Liberati said.
The number and amount of fines issued by the police for loitering was not immediately available as of press time.
Many calls for loitering result in police finding evidence of other crimes, Liberati said
In 2010, the county police dealt with 8,956 loitering complaints, Liberati said. Those incidents resulted in the arrest of 343 adults and 74 juveniles on charges that could range from drugs to outstanding warrants, Liberati said. In 2011, the county police received 11,278 loitering complaints, which led to the arrest of 418 adults and 51 youths, he said. Statistics for this year were not available, Liberati said.
“The call may be loitering, but they're locked up for a stolen car,” he said.
The number of loitering incidents police record most likely will increase as first-responders use the new regulations and as residents become familiar with the new penalties, Liberati said.
“They may at first go up, but they should drop dramatically,” he said.
The tougher penalties were initially proposed by Councilwoman Karen Toles (D-Dist. 7) of Suitland as residents of the Hillcrest Heights area have complained of large groups of young people congregating for long stretches in front of businesses.
“There are a lot of older residents over there who can be intimidated,” she said. “This has really been going on for too long.”
Earle Gumbs, president of the Hillcrest-Marlow Heights Civic Association, spoke in support of the measure Nov. 20.
“It’s a long-standing issue,” he said.”If you have 10 guys, young guys, all in black shirts, they can be intimidating.”
Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington and Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison (D-Dist. 5) of Springdale both expressed concern of people who are not causing a problem being cited for loitering.
“I would ask that the police really be sensitive to that as well as business owners,” Harrison said.
Liberati said emphasis will be placed on the warning phase.
“We’re not out there to lock up loiterers,” he said. “We’re out there for the issues in the community. If we can solve those by having people not congregate or referring them to the right resources then the mission is accomplished.”