Leesburg City Council voted unanimously on May 24 to change its vagrancy ordinance, giving police and property owners greater ability to remove people who obstruct public walkways.
The new ordinance gives police the power to require loiterers to move or move out of the right-of-way. If the loiterer fails to comply, the police can charge them with a class three misdemeanor, which is a fine. If the same person breaks the law more than three times in a 12-month period, the police can charge them with a class 2 misdemeanor, which can result in a prison sentence.
“This will give property owners and police an immediate tool to use,” City Attorney Chris Spera said.
Previously, those who frequented a particular sidewalk with political signs or homeless individuals camping with their belongings in a public space were difficult to prosecute based on the law’s old wording, Spera said.
During the April 24 council business session, Spera specifically mentioned a group of individuals who loitered outside the county government center with political signs.
“We’re not trying to regulate their speech, but what we’re trying to achieve is it fair to occupy the same public property, denying others their use and enjoyment,” Spera said April 24.
According to a staff report, police will always prioritize a personal health and well-being approach, rather than a law enforcement-focused approach, when interacting with homeless people . Leesburg Police already carry out regular wellness checks on homeless people and provide information on services and shelters.