March 21, 2023
The Lakewood City Council adopted two ordinances Monday night meant to give Lakewood police more authority to respond to criminal acts in public spaces.
This includes making it a gross misdemeanor to use illegal drugs in public places, and making it illegal to “camp” in public spaces. Council adopted both pieces of legislation unanimously.
“The goal is not to criminalize people, but instead to encourage them into treatment,” said Mayor Jason Whalen about Council’s adoption of Ordinance 782 around use of controlled substances in public.
Recent changes to state law require people to be diverted to drug treatment twice before they can be cited or arrested for knowing possession of a controlled substance. But without a regional or statewide tracking or referral system, there is no way for police to know if the diversion has occurred. This makes it harder for police to arrest someone and prosecutors to charge them. This has resulted in an increase in the open use of drugs in public.
Under the adopted ordinance, if Lakewood police encounter someone using illegal controlled substances in a public space as defined by the ordinance they can now act. The person could be charged with a gross misdemeanor, which is punishable up to 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
Before voting Lakewood Council members noted they hope the threat of the increased punishment is enough to change people’s behaviors. The goal is to get people into treatment and provide them access to resources instead of jail time.
The message is clear Whalen said: “We are serious about it. We are not going to allow it in the streets.”
The second piece of legislation, Ordinance 783, makes it illegal for people to camp or store personal property on public property overnight in the city. If shelter beds are not available for those who are unhoused, no enforcement action will be taken against them. The ordinance specifically protects the city’s various waterways and critical areas, which are negatively impacted by the waste, including human waste, coming from illegal encampments.
Both ordinances take effect in 30 days.