Last night, the Board of Park Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a ban on smoking cigarettes in city parks. (Smoking pot in public is already banned and e-cigarettes are a-OK under the new rule.) Today, acting Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams approved the ban, and it will take effect in 30 days.
Currently, smoking is not allowed within 25 feet of other people or playgrounds in parks, but parks officials have argued that the current rule is too difficult to enforce. The new ban stirred up controversy from homeless advocates who argued that it could be disproportionately used against homeless people. I've explained that here and here. Y'all also have a lot of feelings about this.
Park commissioners did make some important changes before approving the ban last night, most notably by removing the $27 ticket smokers would have received. Now, anyone found smoking in parks will get a verbal warning and then after two written warnings can be arrested, which is the same process used for other park rules.
According to Susanne Rockwell, strategic adviser to the superintendent, the department has stopped excluding people from parks for violating its rules, so no one will get banned from parks for smoking. That's contrary to the code of conduct on the city's website, which says violating park rules can result in getting kicked out of parks. Rockwell told me last night that's outdated.
The parks department promises its emphasis will be on education and warnings, not on arresting people, and it plans to track demographic data of those who are arrested. The department will also create an "Enforcement Monitoring Committee" to meet every three months to "review and monitor the impacts of the smoking ban."
"We want to have the opportunity to recognize when we need to make changes or modify our approach," Williams said last night.
These were all partial wins for advocates, but the fact remains that people can be arrested for smoking in parks. That's why Real Change Advocacy Program Manager Alex Becker told reporters after last night's meeting that his organization is "disappointed this could still be used as another way to criminalize people who are homeless."