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New Approaches to Street Disorder Attracting Support From Cities, Approval by Courts

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1997
220 pages
To provide local leaders with guidance on how to conduct disorder enforcement strategies within the constitutional guidelines established by the courts, a three-part study was conducted: a survey of 512 municipal police departments; a review of all recent court rulings on the major street disorder issues; and case studies of six cities affected by litigation (New York, Seattle, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dallas, and San Francisco).
The survey of police departments solicited answers to three questions: whether large municipalities have local ordinances that prohibit antisocial behaviors; if so, how and to what extent the ordinances are enforced; and factors that affect enforcement. Overall, 41 percent of the respondents reported that the presence of street people was a problem in their municipality. Police officers have considerable discretion in handling order- maintenance and disorder conditions. A review of all recent court rulings on the major street disorder issues divides them into four categories: panhandling controls, controls on camping, sidewalk use, and "multi-faceted" urban quality of life enforcement programs. Although the patterns of decided cases are reasonably clear, there is not yet a U.S. Supreme Court opinion, and there are few State supreme court decisions. Until these higher courts have acted, individual trial court judges are free to go against the trend. Unlike other more settled areas of the law, cities that face lawsuits must be prepared to educate and persuade judges on disorder enforcement. The case studies provide lessons for those who want to be effective in disorder enforcement, within constitutional boundaries, and successful in any court challenge. Implications are drawn for future research, and model laws are provided.

Date Published: January 1, 1997