MOSES LAKE - Aside from asking a person to pack up camp, the city of Moses Lake has no way to enforce an ordinance passed Tuesday night that prohibits camping during the day.
The Moses Lake City Council voted 6-1 to ban camping between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. in open public spaces. But the council removed a portion of the ordinance that would’ve allowed for civil infractions to be issued for violators. As it was pointed out by Councilmember Ryann Leonard, who first suggested removing the infractions portion of the ordinance, the city cannot take any enforcement action against people camping during the day.
“I understand if we don’t have penalties, we have no way to enforce it, there’s no teeth to it,” Leonard said during Tuesday’s meeting. Leonard ultimately voted against passing the ordinance.
Moses Lake police Chief Kevin Fuhr said without any enforcement penalty, officers could only ask for people to leave and could not force a move. Fuhr is seeking more information from the city attorney to determine if officers actually have the authority to ask campers to move without an avenue to seek enforcement.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Boise case that cities and other jurisdictions cannot criminally prosecute the homeless sleeping in public spaces if there is no shelter available.
While Moses Lake’s ordinance banning camping in city parks and closing parks overnight allows for police to criminal trespass violators, the city does not have that option under the ordinance passed Tuesday night.
City Manager John Williams said staff is seeking clarification from the city attorney to determine if the city is allowed to seize camping items if they are left for a certain amount of time.