Youths picket against anti-loitering efforts |

Youths picket against anti-loitering efforts

Young people claiming unfair enforcement of loitering laws are no longer aimlessly hanging out – this week they had a mission, picketing against police on South Auburn Street.

Grass Valley police officers are unfairly using trespassing, loitering and truancy laws, said James Cody Roberts, one of the organizers of picketing that took place Tuesday and Wednesday.

Police say they’re caught in the middle – they enforce laws after receiving complaints from citizens and businesses regarding loitering, and then have to deal with youths picketing their efforts.

Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster said South Auburn Street businesses are frustrated by problems caused by loitering youth: vandalism, littering, fighting and drinking.

The epicenter of that loitering has shifted around town from parks to the Circle K convenience store; and then to the parking lot across the street from Circle K after that business put up “no loitering” signs, kicked out loiterers and got rid of outdoor restrooms.

“It’s not that we’re just out there initiating activity on our own,” Foster said. “It’s at the request of community concerns with these issues.”

Grass Valley police responded to 193 calls for service from Jan 1, 2001, to Thursday in the area of the Bank Street and South Auburn Street intersection, according to statistics provided by police. The calls involved complaints about drugs, warrants, traffic, fighting and vandalism.

By comparison, the intersection of Idaho-Maryland Road and East Main Street, which also has a convenience store, had 23 service calls for the same time period. The South Auburn Street and McKnight Way intersection had three.

Foster said he has offered to meet with the youths today to explain policies and procedures, and even discuss procedures for one youth objective – getting loitering laws off the books.

“I’m willing to sit down and meet with them,” he said.

Roberts, 23, said he was recently cited three times for loitering and trespassing. He has written several complaints to City Hall, he said.

Roberts and his friends started collecting signatures this week at Circle K to protest the police behavior, he said. They collected 200 signatures by Thursday, which Roberts said they will present to Foster today.

On Monday, Roberts and a friend were in Nevada County Superior Court on a trespassing citation, court records show.

They were cited March 23 after seeking shelter from the rain at the former gas station at the corner of Colfax Avenue and Henderson Street, Roberts said. Police reported that Roberts and another man were inside the abandoned gas station. The matter was continued until Wednesday.

Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Oliver Pong said he has not noticed an increase in the number of trespassing citations filed by Grass Valley police.

Lee Blakemore, who has spent time talking with homeless youth as part of his efforts with the Volunteer Action Center, said he is concerned about street kids – youths who habitually hang out on streets and in parks.

Blakemore said hanging out is part of trying to make connections, whether for a social life, for locations of parties, or for drugs.

The possibility that hanging out could lead to drug use concerns Blakemore, particularly the use of hard-core drugs like methamphetamine, which he said appears to be pretty common in the community.



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