Grand Forks continues to work on a plan to downgrade the penalty for violating a city ordinance that prohibits overly loud parties.
City Council members agreed on Tuesday, Sept. 3, to table a plan to reduce the penalty from a criminal one to a non-criminal one -- effectively a downgrade from a misdemeanor to an infraction -- to give City Attorney Howard Swanson time to review it further and produce a revised draft of the amended ordinance.
City leaders made a similar decision in June. Swanson said his initial draft of the proposed change only reduced the penalty for violating the ordinance, and that the new draft he’ll work on would include provisions that ratchet up penalties for frequent offenders.
The plan, then, is for Swanson to report to council members at a future Committee of the Whole meeting, where they give preliminary consideration to city business, with that revised draft.
“If we could keep in the fact that if somebody fails to disperse after being told to by law enforcement, I’d like to make sure that is still a Class B Misdemeanor,” said Danny Weigel, a City Council member and University of North Dakota police officer who has pushed to decriminalize raucous parties for months now.
Currently, campus cops can’t enforce criminal violations of city ordinances, which means making noisy parties a non-criminal offense would presumably allow UND police to deal with loud parties.
Currently, university police have to defer to Grand Forks police when a party starts to get out of hand, and thus, Weigel has argued, decriminalizing noisy parties would free up city police to respond to more serious crimes.
Weigel and City Council member Katie Dachtler represent nearly equal portions of the university’s campus. They held a joint meeting of members of their wards in late August, and a quick show of hands among the 30-something residents there indicated general support for the ordinance change.
One woman at that meeting was Peggy Lucke, who compiled a list of rental properties with a reputation for hosting overly loud get-togethers -- and the landlords who oversee those properties.
“We really need action quickly,” Lucke, who lives near campus, told council members. “Living in that district, we, as citizens, as property owners and taxpayers, feel like we don’t get the full advantage of police coverage that the rest of the city does because the university police can’t write the kind of citations that would be more prohibitive, maybe, to recurring kinds of activity.”