Annapolis bill would toughen loitering laws

Alderman hopes proposal hampers drug dealers

May 06, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Alderman Herbert H. McMillan's campaign for the Annapolis city council two years ago took him to public housing communities where suspected drug dealers loitered on street corners.

When he asked what police were doing about the loitering, he was told they couldn't do anything. Police can make loitering arrests only on public property, and the sidewalks are the private property of the Annapolis Housing Authority.

McMillan intends to change that with a bill to redefine public spaces to include public housing property and places such as parking lots and playgrounds that might be privately owned but are open to the public.

"If the police can catch somebody in the act of doing something, they can arrest them," said McMillan, a Ward 5 Republican. "But a lot of people in my public housing neighborhoods would call police about people who are loitering and the police could not address the issue."

McMillan expects opposition from people fearful that civil liberties might be infringed upon.

"Loitering statutes in and of themselves are troubling," said Dwight Sullivan, a Baltimore-based staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "These statutes tend to criminalize acts that are not in and of themselves bad or dangerous."

McMillan has several supporters -- Annapolis Housing Authority Director Patricia H. Croslan, Lt. Robert E. Beans, the city police crime prevention coordinator, and several neighborhood watch leaders.

Only off-duty police officers working as security guards for the Housing Authority can make loitering arrests on public housing community sidewalks, Beans said.

"Nobody wants to see anybody's civil liberties impinged," said Sue Bailey, a neighborhood block watch coordinator in Eastport. "But there's got to be something we can do in Annapolis."

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