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West Side alderman wants to strengthen anti-gang loitering ordinance

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) says the prostitution loitering ordinance he pushed through the City Council last summer has not been enforced and it’s time to replace the “location-based” ordinance with something broader.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) says Chicago needs a stronger criminal loitering ordinance to stop “brazen” drug and gang activity on the West Side.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Last summer, West Side residents packed the City Council chambers to plead for a stronger anti-gang loitering ordinance to “take back” neighborhood streets overrun with gangbangers, drug dealers and prostitutes.

They described children forced to walk past scantily clothed women on their way to school and witness sex acts in progress in broad daylight. They talked about kids finding used condoms on the street and playing with them after mistaking them for balloons.

They got some measure of relief when their local alderman, Jason Ervin (28th), convinced his colleagues to start by outlawing “prostitution-related loitering.” It empowered Chicago Police to designate areas of the city where hookers could be ordered to disperse for an eight-hour period.

Now, Ervin is declaring that ordinance a bust and proposing an even broader anti-gang loitering ordinance to replace the one overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly 20 years ago.

“We need to expand the gang and narcotics loitering ordinance beyond specific locations … It’s unfair to residents that one block is able to be enforced and another is not able to be enforced,” Ervin said Thursday.

“We need to do away with the location-based theory behind this and move to a point where the ordinance can be enforced where it’s needed. This would allow for enforcement where it’s needed. We won’t have to go through a drawn-out process to be identified as a hot spot.”

Ervin said he has a letter on his desk from the chief of patrol asking aldermen to send in letters to designate hot spots from October to March.

“If the hot spot moves, we can’t wait [until March]. It makes no sense. We need an ordinance that’s enforceable citywide. If loitering and narcotics activity moves, we need to be able to move enforcement. Now, you can’t. It’s ridiculous.”

Ervin said criminal “brazenness” has increased exponentially because the Chicago Police Department has not enforced the ordinance approved last summer.

“Residents are continuing to have the same challenges that brought 300 people down to City Hall. It’s been over a year. They have not enforced it one iota,” he said.

Ervin introduced the new anti-gang loitering ordinance at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the last before the traditional August recess.

Whenever a police officer “observes one or more persons engaged in loitering in any public place,” it empowers that officer to order those people to “disperse and remove themselves from within sight and hearing” for at least eight hours or face arrest.

Violators would face up to six months in mail, fines as high as $500 and up to 120 hours of community service.

Anyone convicted of a third offense within a one-year period would have to refrain from loitering at that same location for 30 days.

The ordinance defines loitering as “remaining in any one place under circumstances that would warrant a reasonable person to believe that the purpose or effect of that behavior is to facilitate illegal activity.”

Loitering is further defined as “standing, sitting idly, whether or not the person is in a vehicle or remaining in or around a public place, including a school or public park property or entering or remaining in a building in or around a public place other than the person’s residence.”

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the new anti-loitering ordinance “suffers from the same constitutional defects that the Supreme Court of the United States identified in a previous loitering ordinance” overturned 20 years ago.

“The measure is vague and fails to distinguish between someone who is doing something illegal from someone just catching up with a friend or waiting outside Wrigley Field to catch a glimpse of Javier Baez,” Yohnka wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.