The Jacksonville City Council is expected to approve new park regulations and strengthen enforcement of them at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Jacksonville police have been banning people from parks only for crimes listed in the city’s code, like sexual battery and prostitution. But officers have said that limits their ability to enforce park rules because other crimes aren't listed.
Now, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Parks and Recreation department and City Council members have workshopped the policy to allow one-year trespassing violations be given to people who violate park rules like panhandling or breaking open container laws after a warning.
On Thursday, a few dozen people were scattered around Hemming Park socializing. A couple of guys were sitting on the ledge of Hemming’s fountain over a game of chess.
“A lot of people just come out here and play games and stuff,” said one of the players who goes by the name “Westpoint.”
He said if park rules are going to be strictly enforced, he hopes police apply them to all visitors, even the mayor if he were to violate.
“Don’t just pick out just one person,” he said. “You got to put it on everybody.”
Westpoint doesn’t want to give his full name because he doesn’t want to the police to target him. The same goes for his opponent who said he thinks the rule change is the city’s way of trying to push away homeless people. He said the homeless are viewed as an “eyesore.”
The stricter enforcement would be applied to all Jacksonville parks. But, Hemming Park is also adding new rules.
“The new rules for Hemming would include things like ‘you need to wear a shirt,’ ” said Councilman Greg Anderson at a recent committee meeting.
People who are banned would be allowed to appeal it within 30 days following the incident.
At the same time, a separate bill would extend Hemming Park’s boundaries so people who are banned won’t be allowed to stand on the sidewalks immediately surrounding it or under the Skyway. Police say that’s been a problem.
The bills will be voted on at Tuesday's council meeting.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.