FORT PIERCE, Fla. - Residents who wear baggy pants can keep their fashion choice — for now.
The City Commission agreed Monday night not to create an ordinance banning baggy pants across the city. It had directed Police Chief Sean Baldwin at its Oct. 18 meeting to research the effectiveness of enforcing ordinances prohibiting baggy pants in other cities.
"I just don't think we can write laws for everything that offends us," Mayor Bob Benton said. "It's just not a priority right now."
Commissioner Eddie Becht said the ordinance would be putting police officers in the field where parents and community leaders should be.
Instead, the commission decided to create a community education and outreach program to tackle the issue of baggy pants. It planned to bring the issue back in February to check on the program's progress.
"We have to start somewhere," Commissioner Rufus Alexander said. "You hit it on the head with the educational component."
Baldwin presented his research results regarding a baggy pants ordinance, which would prohibit low-hanging pants that expose underwear or buttocks.
"I do not believe that enforcing an ordinance in Fort Pierce would cause any operational problems for the police department," Baldwin wrote in his research.
However, he was concerned that the ordinance would be legally defendable and written in a way that clearly defines the commission's intent.
"Otherwise, our officers will be unable to differentiate in our enforcement between gang members wearing baggy pants and someone wearing a bikini or the plumber," Baldwin wrote.
Neither he nor the commission wanted to make wearing baggy pants a criminal violation. Baldwin suggested removal from public facilities, a fine or community service.
Commissioner Reggie Sessions brought the discussion to the commission because of numerous complaints from residents about baggy pants.
Sessions said Monday night it's not a coincidence a lot of criminals wear baggy pants. He said the issue is serious and important enough for the commission to take action.
"What it boils down to is a lack of respect and the indecency and the misbehavior," he said.
Baldwin presented ordinances from Riviera Beach, Opa-locka and Baldwin.
"It shall be unlawful for any person to appear in public or in view of the public wearing pants below the waist which expose the skin or undergarments," stated the Riviera Beach ordinance.
A first offense is punishable by a $150 fine or community service. A second or subsequent offense is punishable by a $300 fine. Failure to pay fines or perform community service results in no more than 60 days in jail.
The ordinance was challenged in 2008 when a 17-year-old boy was stopped for baggy pants and arrested for violating his probation. A local judge found the ordinance unconstitutional.
Riviera Beach Police Department Assistant Chief David Harris told Baldwin the ordinance was a good attempt at addressing the community's concern with baggy pants. Harris said enforcement was limited to extreme violations, which was a total of about 14 charges before the ordinance was ruled unconstitutional.
Harris also said the education effort of the city partnering with community groups and churches to educate residents about the issue was just as effective as the enforcement effort.
The Baldwin ordinance is similar to the Riviera Beach ordinance, except it includes "intentionally" wearing pants or shorts below the waist.
A first offense is punishable by 40 community service hours. A second offense is punishable by a $250 to $500 fine plus 80 community service hours.
Although the ordinance exists, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office doesn't enforce it.
The Opa-locka ordinance also is similar to the Riviera Beach ordinance, except it is limited to city buildings and parks.
Punishment consists of violators being removed from public property.
Opa-locka City Commissioner Timothy Holmes, who sponsored the ordinance, told Baldwin it had been effective and said he plans to try to expand the ordinance across the city.
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