Politics & Government

Puyallup council approves new trespass policy despite some community concerns

The Puyallup City Council unanimously approved an updated trespass policy meant to provide more flexibility for banning disruptive individuals from public facilities.

Council members had delayed the vote for several months while staff worked to provide more clarity on several issues, including who would be authorized to ban troublemakers from city property.

Despite support from the entire council Tuesday, members of the community continued to express concerns that the new policy could lead to discrimination against homeless people.

Ted Brackman, a longtime advocate for Puyallup’s homeless, has said homeless people use public facilities more than anyone else and the ordinance gives too much discretion to city staff members tasked with enforcing it.

Brackman said Tuesday that it is one of many ways the city has made it “illegal” to be homeless in Puyallup. He was one of several people arrested during a sleep-in protest in May that was aimed at underscoring that point.

“Any time a homeless person is banned from one facility or from one property, where do they go?” Brackman said during the meeting.

He pointed to a letter sent Tuesday by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, that urged the council to reject the proposed policy changes.

“While this proposal does not explicitly aim to criminalize homelessness, that will be the law’s inevitable effect,” the letter states.

The updated trespass proposal was introduced in June, prompted by an assault at the library late last year. It expands on a policy the city had deemed inflexible in dealing with people “whose behavior is dangerous, unsafe, illegal, or unreasonably disruptive to other users,” the ordinance states.

Shawn Arthur, senior assistant city attorney, has said the new policy allows more flexibility in the length of time violators could be banned from city property and who has authority to ban them.

The city manager, or a director or manager designated by the city manager, would have authority to issue trespass orders. The policy dictates that anyone tasked with issuing trespass orders would be provided training, Arthur said Tuesday.

Arthur and City Attorney Steve Kirkelie stressed that the trespass policy applies to all individuals equally.

“This ordinance has absolutely zero to do with homeless persons,” Kirkelie said ahead of the vote, adding that the goal is to increase efficiency in issuing trespass orders.

Beyond that, Arthur said the goal is to eliminate the need to issue the orders altogether.

“This ordinance will give the citizens more protection,” he said. “The primary concern here is safety.”

Council members also suggested that tying the trespass policy to homelessness is a red herring.

“I don’t think that this is a homeless issue,” Councilwoman Julie Door said.

Councilman Tom Swanson commended city staff on building flexibility into the law so that cases can be addressed on an individual basis.

“We can’t legislate every possible scenario,” he said. “We have to leave some room for discretion.”

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682