City Council discusses trespass ordinance, pedestrian safety

Tuesday, January 22, 2019 - 9:34pm

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, discusses trespassing ordinances at the City Council meeting Tuesday in City Hall.

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, discusses trespassing ordinances at the City Council meeting Tuesday in City Hall. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Tuesday night, Ann Arbor City Council introduced an ordinance to amend city trespassing laws.

The amended ordinance, which is a project of the Ann Arbor Police Department and Human Rights Commission, will require that individuals on property without lawful authority to be there receive a warning before being cited or arrested for trespassing. In addition, the new ordinance would give more control to the city, rather than the county, over trespassing cases.

After the introduction of the ordinance, councilmembers and residents shared concerns about the potential abusiveness of the measure.

Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, spoke to clarify the ordinance. She addressed resident concerns about what they see as the punitive nature of the new ordinance. Grand, along with Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, serves as a liaison between the council and the Human Rights Commission.

“It could be interpreted, and it has been by some residents, that we’re trying to make our trespass harsher, that we’re trying to make it more punitive,” Grand said. “When in fact, bringing trespass into the city’s ordinance was a result of the work of the Ann Arbor Police Department and the Human Rights Council.”

Ramlawi echoed Grand’s statements and shared he initially had reservations about passing the ordinance, too. However, Ramlawi said he now believes the new ordinance will be beneficial in handling these cases.

“It does not change the ordinance itself, but the policy procedures of enforcement,” Ramlawi said. “I think it expands the civil rights of folks and it does not take away more.”

AAPD Interim Chief Robert Pfannes explained the need for the new ordinance came from a realization within the police department that many individuals convicted of trespassing are often repeat offenders and suffer from mental illness. He stated that, with the current trespass process mandating mailed court dates, it is difficult for the many homeless offenders to receive important documents when they don’t have a permanent address.

“It’s a way for them to access resources, to not get deeper into the criminal justice system, and there’s no downside from an enforcement angle either,” Pfannes said.

The proposed amendment comes about a year after a 16-year-old Black teen was arrested at Blake Transit Center for allegedly trespassing. The 2017 arrest drew severe criticism from the public for the officer’s use of force when arresting the Ann Arbor high school student and for citing the student with trespass when he claimed to be waiting for the bus.

Several Ann Arbor residents also voiced concerns over pedestrian and vehicle accidents. Pedestrian safety has been a consistent topic of debate. Members of the local citizen group A2 Safe Transport attended the meeting and urged the council to make improvements to crosswalks.

According to Claire Duvernoy, an A2 Safe Transport member, there have been three pedestrians injured in the past three weeks at crosswalks in Ann Arbor.

“We are at a crisis in perspective to pedestrian safety,” Duvernoy said. “We need to have a comprehensive review of all crosswalks in Ann Arbor.”

Barbara Clark, the mother of a 17-year-old driver who critically injured a 21-year-old male University of Michigan student last week, also spoke on pedestrian safety. Clark expressed her apologies to the family of the student injured by her son and joined other residents in demanding the council devote more resources to improving crosswalks.

“I’m not here to revisit the accident,” Clark said. “I’m here because I don’t want another pedestrian injured or killed, or their family to experience the devastation this family is feeling, and I don’t want another driver to experience the guilt my son feels.”

Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, discussed some of the pedestrian safety concerns made during public comments and mentioned the new crosswalk guidelines that were released Tuesday. The designs were created in response to resident concerns of inconsistencies among crosswalks.

“First I want to thank the staff for the crosswalk design guidelines that were just issued — that is a major improvement in crosswalk safety,” Griswold said. “I will be working with staff over the next couple of weeks, and I will be introducing a formal resolution of specific action items that will make crosswalks safer for all roadway users.”