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City to consider jail time for repeat trespassers

November 13, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Huntington City Council members will discuss on Tuesday modifying an ordinance to add potential jail time for people found to be repeatedly trespassing inside a building or property.

City council will be moved to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday because City Hall is closed Monday for the observance of Veterans Day.

During Tuesday’s meeting, council members will introduce a first-reading of a modified ordinance to update’s the city’s code relating to trespassing.

Under the current ordinance, anyone found trespassing may be fined no more than S100 for each offense.

This created a problem for officers responding to people at homes deemed uninhabitable with “Do Not Occupy” notices posted, said Scott Damron, city attorney.

The people, who owned the uninhabitable homes, were living there without electricity or running water, Damron said. Officers could only give them $100 fines for trespassing under the existing ordinance, and they returned often.

Police Chief Hank Dial said the fines haven’t done much to stop people from trespassing because they don’t pay the fines anyway.

“We have somebody who is going in there trespassing, and we come back half an hour later and they are trespassing again. They just keep collecting pieces of paper,” Dial said. “It’s not much of a deterrent.”

The modified ordinance will give police officers an option to jail repeat offenders no less than five days and no more than 30 days. People may still be fined up to $100 on their first offense.

Dial said adding the potential for jail time will give officers an option on how to respond to people found repeatedly in violation of the ordinance.

“It gives the option to the police officer on the scene,” he said. “Sometimes that’s necessary. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do, sometimes it’s not.”

The modified ordinance was presented during a meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee last month. The committee unanimously agreed to move it forward with a favorable recommendation.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, council members will vote on a request from Mayor Steve Williams to support making permanent the Home Rule Pilot Program, which was approved by state legislators approximately 11 years ago.

Williams said the program gives municipalities, including Huntington, the right to pass ordinances without regard to state laws or state approval.

The original program included four cities, but has now expanded to more than 30. The laws allowing for the program are set to expire in July 2019 unless state legislators move to enshrine the program into law.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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