Mind Your Manners At City Parks -- Under New Law, Seattle Police Can Kick You Out For Breaking Rules

Speedy in-line skaters, chronic inebriates and lackadaisical dog owners can be immediately booted from city parks under a new Seattle ordinance effective Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington contends the Parks Exclusion Ordinance amounts to punishment without due process. But city officials say the policy will apply to only a narrow slice of the park-going public and is part of a broader effort to ensure pleasant parks for all.

Under the ordinance, a person can be kicked out of one of 12 newly established park zones if cited for breaking a law or park rule.

However, "exclusion notices" are separate from a formal arrest.

In most cases, the first offense during a one-year period will bring an exclusion period of up to seven days; the second, 90 days. Three offenses in one year translates to a year's exclusion from all city parks.

The ordinance went into effect July Fourth, but enforcement has been delayed as the city conducted training sessions with officers from the Police, Animal Control and Parks departments.

Before the ordinance, officers had little immediate power in responding to illegal behavior at parks, said City Attorney Mark Sidran. On some occasions, he said, defiant offenders would rip up their citations in front of officers and stay right where they were.

"This ordinance strikes the right balance between individuals' civil liberties and the right of a community to use its parks without the illegal behavior of someone else," Sidran said.

The ordinance establishes geographic zones to prevent offenders from simply hopping over to a nearby park after receiving an exclusion notice. For example, people kicked out of Green Lake Park would also be excluded from Woodland Park and the Lower Woodland Playfield for the duration of their term.

City officials said the ordinance is designed to apply mainly to people who habitually commit offenses such as drinking alcohol, allowing their dogs to run amok without leashes or in-line skating down Alki Beach sidewalks at overzealous speeds.

But Jerry Sheehan, legislative director for the state ACLU, said the policy allows responding officers to administer punishment before due process has taken its course.

"Our concern is that we believe it is unconstitutional for police to ban people from the parks on their own say-so," said Sheehan, who spoke against the ordinance at a public hearing.

Sheehan said he also is troubled that the citing officer has the discretion to dole out exclusions of one to seven days for a first offense. Terms of punishment should not be decided by a law-enforcement officer, he said.

Sheehan said that if someone comes forward in the coming moths, the ACLU will consider filing a lawsuit. "We're eager to hear from anybody who has been banned from a park," he said.

Jake Batsell's phone message number is 206-464-2595. His e-mail address is: jaba-new@seatimes.com