SPOKANE, Wash. – It has been four years since Spokane City leaders passed an ordinance making it illegal to sit or lie on Downtown sidewalks during business hours.
Spokane Police issued dozens of tickets when the ordinance first started but not so much anymore. In fact, citations are only about one-tenth of what they used to be.
This was a controversial law when it passed, with some people saying it unfairly targeted the homeless along these streets. Serial offenders face a $5,000 fine under the program.
Dennis Smith was among the first people to learn that sitting in Spokane's sidewalks comes with price. In 2014, we interviewed him after he was hit with a ticket.
“It's just people who are crippled, can't walk and can't go far. When they're not open and have no place to sleep they're going to sit down and rest," Smith said back in 2014.
Smith received one of the 49 tickets SPD issued for violating sit-and-lie in 2014. In the years since, numbers suggest far fewer people have ended up in his situation. 2 On Your Side learned the number of citations has gone way down.
Forty-nine tickets were given out in 2014 when the law first went into effect. The next year the number of citations were cut in half to 25. In 2016, it went down slightly to 24. As of September 2017, only seven tickets have been issued.
So has the law deterred people from siting on sidewalks or has Spokane Police stopped enforcing it?
In this case, officers said there have not been as many violators as in the past. They said anyone cited under sit-and-lie were automatically referred to social services for help. As a result, officers said the number of repeat offenders has gone down and along with it has been the need to give out tickets.
As for the argument that the law does target the homeless, police are quick to point out that they give folks many chances for actually being cited. The law requires police to notify someone they are in violation of the law before citing them. It also bans police from citing homeless people when homeless shelters are full.
KREM 2 also learned loitering citations have dropped by 50 percent in Downtown Spokane.