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Manchester considering crackdown in city parks

MANCHESTER — The police department wants to be able to slap trespassing charges on people who violate ordinances and laws in city parks.

The aldermen’s Land and Buildings Committee gave preliminary approval to the proposed ordinance change at its meeting Tuesday.

The policy would allow the police to issue “trespass warnings” to any “individual who violates any city ordinance, or state law or lawful directive of a law enforcement officer” in a city park, according to the proposal from the Manchester Police Department.

The trespass order would bar an offender from being in the park for a year. A second order would result in an offender being barred for a two-year period. The orders could be appealed through a hearing process overseen by the parks department.

The proposal was outlined in a letter to the committee from Community Police Officer Richard Brown. He wrote that it was modeled on a similar policy in St. Petersburg, Fla., and was in keeping with “New Hampshire court decisions and the 11th Circuit of Appeals in Florida.”

“While there have been a number of efforts made by the Manchester Police Department to focus on the behavioral issues within the city parks,” Brown wrote, “it is necessary to provide ... officers another tool to more swiftly and effectively deter offenders from participating in unlawful activities within our city parks.”

Committee Chairman Pat Long, Ward 3, said the ordinance was aimed at cracking down on people who habitually commit misdeeds in public parks, such as drinking, selling drugs or urinating.

“This is about people disrespecting the use of our parks,” he said.

Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann questioned whether the law could be used against protesters, such as those who turned out in 2011 as part of the Occupy movement.

The state Supreme Court is weighing whether the arrests of members of Occupy New Hampshire at Veterans Park on trespassing and curfew violations infringed on their free speech rights.

In its outline of the policy, the police department noted that a person issued a trespass warning who wanted to exercise “First Amendment rights” at the park he or she was banned from could do so if there is “no reasonable alternative location.”

The committee approved the proposal unanimously, while directing the police department to work with the solicitor’s office to draft an ordinance. It would have to be approved by two other committees, besides the full board of aldermen.

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