More local laws again carry criminal penalties in Charlotte, including camping ban

Charlotte City Council members have approved restoring criminal penalties for violations of another set of local laws, including one that prohibits camping on public property.

City staff recommended adding back misdemeanor penalties to 15 ordinances that were decriminalized in December by a sweeping North Carolina criminal justice reform bill. Seven were approved by the Charlotte City Council last week.

North Carolina cities looking to keep criminal enforcement for some local ordinance violations now must vote to restore penalties and spell out specific punishments.

Council members voted 6-2 on Monday to restore misdemeanor criminal penalties on these ordinances:

  • Conducting commercial activity at the airport without a permit

  • Violations of airport ground transportation permit requirements (such as limos and hotel shuttles)

  • Violations of laws around dance halls, including permits and when juveniles can be present

  • Public health nuisances, including trash and debris, overgrown vegetation and junk vehicles

  • Playing and loitering on railroad property

  • Camping on public property

  • Curfew violations for juveniles under 16

  • Operating a carnival without a permit

All are now punishable by a Class 3 misdemeanor and a maximum $500 fine.

Council members Renee Johnson and Braxton Winston voted against reinstating criminal enforcement on those approved Monday. Johnson and Winston had previously said the city’s camping ban could be used against people who are homeless and groups demonstrating or protesting.

Johnson said she wanted more information about how discretion is used to decide if someone is charged criminally or civilly for a violation. North Carolina lawmakers, she said, enacted this part of the criminal justice reform bill as an “attempt for equity and to remove subjectivity … for communities of color and some extent for criminal justice reform.”

CMPD Deputy Chief Steven Brochu told council members voluntary compliance is the first goal for these violations.

Since the first discussion over these changes, city staff has said the camping ban “is not intended to criminalize homelessness,” stating law enforcement first offers rides to shelter and other resources.

“Criminal enforcement is only sought for large scale situations when hundreds of people set up tents in public parks or on city sidewalks,” according materials provided to council members.

CMPD previously told the Observer that officer did not make any arrests since at least 2017 for violations of either the city or county’s camping ban.

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