A new ordinance prohibiting people from sitting or lying on Durango sidewalks may be accomplishing its goal: putting a stop to the behavior.
After the ordinance went in effect June 19, Durango police spent the first 30 days educating potential offenders about the law and informing them police would begin issuing citations after July 19. Since that period has ended, police have issued only one citation.
“We’re not seeing that as an issue for now,” said Durango Police Chief Kamran Afzal. “Which is good. That means that the education worked. It seems like everyone knows what those rules are now.”
The ordinance, approved unanimously May 15 by Durango City Council, prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. from the train depot to 12th Street on Main Avenue.
The ordinance also applies to Narrow Gauge Avenue, the alley east of Main Avenue and East Second Avenue from College Drive to Ninth Street. The rule also prohibits sitting or lying on streets, railways, alleys, parking spaces or other publicly owned property used for pedestrian or vehicle travel.
Police haven’t received many complaints about people sitting or lying on sidewalks, nor have they received complaints that the law isn’t being enforced, Afzal said.
“Maybe the law did its job and people aren’t sitting or lying anymore,” he said.
The law specifically states that if law enforcement sees an individual sitting or lying on the sidewalk, officers are required to first inform them of the law. If the individual doesn’t correct the behavior, officers have the discretion to issue a citation.
Afzal encourages his officers to use a “common-sense” approach when issuing citations.
“Officers use their discretion all the time on what’s appropriate, and this will be no different,” Afzal said.
The ordinance doesn’t apply during parades and other public events. Once the events are over, police officers remind people of the ordinance, and most everyone has complied, Afzal said.
The lack of citations could be attributed to adverse conditions experienced this summer in the community, which reduced downtown traffic.
“We had a fire, then we had the flooding issues and now we have the sewer line,” he said. “It really hasn’t been on the forefront of our mind.”
The homeless community has also endured its share of challenges this year. In May, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office moved homeless residents from scattered campsites near the Tech Center to a 1-acre site just west of city limits. Residents were evacuated from that site to Escalante Middle School on June 12, when the county enacted Stage 3 fire restrictions, which banned open encampments. Since then, the city opened a temporary site near the entrance of Greenmount Cemetery, which is set to close Aug. 25. No future location has officially been determined.
Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, said he hasn’t seen many people sitting or lying on the sidewalks this summer. Businesses also haven’t reached out to him about a greater need to enforce the law.
“The amount of people who choose to sit or lie down on the sidewalks is super minimal,” Walsworth said. “It’s been that way all summer. There’s not a lot of people blocking sidewalks right now.
“Police have discretion, like they do with any law, on how to deal with someone who is violating it,” Walsworth said. “I think there’s a misconception out there that this is going to be heavy-handed. I’m not the police so I don’t know, but that’s how I see it going.”
Afzal said he isn’t surprised by the lack of citations. He said he never expected the issue to be severe, and there are more serious issues that need attention.
“Our concentration is always going to be on the bigger stuff,” Afzal said. “The tool is always going to be there in the toolbox that, if called upon, we know that we can rely on a rule that we did not have before.”