Crackdown takes aim at skateboards Officials seek $50 fine for riders who flout location restrictions

'They're everywhere'

Youthful enthusiasts plan to protest get-tough proposal

April 17, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Annapolis officials say they are cracking down on skateboarders they say run amok through city streets, despite laws that prohibit skating in nonresidential areas.

In an effort to curb violators, who skirt the law by skating in parking garages and on streets after midnight when there are few people to chase them away, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins has proposed imposing $50 fines for skateboarding in restricted areas.

Proponents say the law will help make downtown streets safer for pedestrians. But skaters say it only will turn them into criminals.

"There is nowhere for us to go in this city so you have to break the law," said 15-year-old David Howard, who got his first board when he was 7 and frequently dodges police to skate through downtown Annapolis. "We're not asking for much. We just want to skate. It doesn't seem fair."

David and several friends say they will protest the proposal April 30 when the city council's public safety committee holds a hearing.

Although there are no statistics to gauge how much of a problem skateboarders cause, Annapolis police, who requested the ordinance, say they are speaking for people who are sick of run-ins with boys on wheels.

"They are dangerous to pedestrians walking downtown, as well as to the skateboarders themselves," said Maj. Casey B. Gittings, commander of police operations.

The existing law has no provisions for penalties, and violators usually walk off with little more than a warning, said police Capt. John W. Wright. Police confiscate boards only in extreme cases, he added, despite claims from skateboarders who say their friends have been arrested and boards taken.

The proposed ordinance would clarify the prohibition on skateboarding in most of downtown, nonresidential Annapolis. It includes "any street, alley, sidewalk or public way" located in the business, industrial or conservation zoning districts, or Hilltop Lane, and imposes the fine.

Meanwhile, the problem continues, said Alderman Louise Hammond, whose ward includes the downtown business district.

"Walk down Main Street on a warm, sunny day and they're everywhere," the Ward One Democrat said. "Somebody's going to get hit. We need to decide what the solution is once and for all."

Police and others try to direct skateboarders to nearby Quiet Waters and Truxton Heights parks, but skateboarders say the parks aren't adequate. Instead, they frequent the tennis courts at Old Bates Junior High School off Spa Road, where they have built makeshift ramps and obstacles.

But the ramps are torn down repeatedly, complained 15-year-old Adam Petty of Annapolis.

"Certain cities build skate parks and people pay money to get in," he said. "All we're asking for is a place to skate. Either that or help us fix up the tennis courts at old Bates."

Officials say insurance problems probably will prevent that from happening. When a group of Carroll County skateboarders came up with the same idea in Taneytown a couple of years ago, the proposal was squashed in the city council because no insurance could be found to cover injuries.

Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, who chairs the city council's public safety committee, said Annapolis officials talked about opening a site for skateboarders several years ago, but nothing came of it.

She agreed that skateboarders should be off the streets, but said she is sympathetic.

"There really is no place for the kids to go," said Ms. DeGraff, a Ward 7 Republican. "Sure, maybe we don't want them skating in the streets, but they're going to do it somewhere. I'd rather they have a place where the children can go to be supervised."

With little hope of that happening, some skateboarders say they'll continue to ignore city law.

"It's ridiculous," said Jimmy Yancy, 18, a member of the Annapolis Evolve skate team. "The only way you can not break the law is by not doing it. And that's something that is just not possible."

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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