CONCORD -- City code violators may not want to ignore police citations in the future.
The Concord City Council unanimously OK'd an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to ignore health and safety citations. Repeat offenders who do not appear in court can be fined or even given jail time.
Final approval of the ordinance is slated for the Sept. 24 council meeting.
In 2012, Concord police issued 946 citations for infractions such as downtown smoking, daytime curfew, drinking alcohol in public, shopping cart possession, trespass, illegal camping and public urination.
Under current city code, there is no penalty for not appearing in court, and a police report to the council explained how that makes it tough to enforce the law, and how it is unfair to the people who do show up at court.
Police Sgt. Russ Norris, who works on code enforcement, later said police did not have a "quantified record" of the number of violators who failed to appear because police did not keep track of it, but there was plenty of anecdotal evidence.
Offenders who have appeared in court were likely fined and charged with court costs, while the no-shows escaped any penalty, according to police.
Norris backed up the report, telling how repeat offenders wad up a citation, throw it on the ground and ask officers why they bother to write them.
The codified version of the ordinance, now being written by the city attorney, will state that anyone willfully violating his promise to appear in court is guilty of a misdemeanor.
The final version is set for approval at the Sept. 24 council meeting and would become effective 30 days from then, according to City Clerk Mary Rae Lehman.
"I applaud the city," Ray Barber said during public comment.
He asked about the potential cost of jury trials that the city might incur. Council members were also worried about adding to already burgeoning court calendars.
Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister asked for clarification of the penalties between civil and criminal citations, and about Community Court for low-level offenders.
City Attorney Mark Coon confirmed that, for example, residents receiving a citation for a building code infraction would be dealt with in civil courts. Health and safety misdemeanors would be considered criminal.
Coon, and later Lehman, said that violators under the new ordinance would be prime candidates for disposition to Community Court, where they could receive referrals for counseling, possible community service and fines to discourage further citations.
"Community Court has been extremely successful," Lehman said after the meeting.
Councilman Edi Birsan asked Coon if the proposed ordinance would help reduce repeat offenders and if other cities have similar ordinances. Coon said he thought it would help, and knew of no other cities with similar ordinances.
"It does not matter if other cities have similar ordinances," Councilman Ron Leone said. "It gives our police department another tool to keep our city safe."
Vice Mayor Tim Grayson agreed. "What you are asking for is empowerment to do what we have asked you to do."
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