After much discussion about pedestrian safety, the City of Milford recently passed an ordinance that would prohibit a pedestrian to approach vehicles within 200 feet of a traffic signal unless that vehicle is legally parked at the curb on the shoulder. Pedestrians may also not be in the median unless they are crossing the highway at a crosswalk. Anyone who stands in a median for more than two light changes is in violation of the ordinance.
“I see the rules, but what are the ramifications?” Councilman Andy Fulton asked. “I see the rules here saying you’ll want to do this. you don’t want to do that. But what penalties are there?”
City Manager Mark Whitfield explained that there was a fine of $100 included in the ordinance but it was removed at the request of council. Councilman Jason James stated that he felt the fine should be removed because it was likely the city would never collect it.
“I just feel like this is a toothless wonder,” Councilman Fulton said. “Why even have it if it doesn’t matter? Why have it if you are not going to apply any grounds to say this is right or this is wrong. There’s the ordinance that says what is right. I’m not going to do it. Well, then you’re wrong, you are going against the ordinance. But now what?”
Councilman Todd Culotta pointed out that as a contractor, he has certain rules he has to follow such as not making too much noise on a weekend or after a certain hour. He explained that the police could show up and tell him to keep it down, but he could just ignore it. Councilman James asked if there was a fine and Councilman Culotta stated that he could probably lose his license to work in Milford if he continued to violate the ordinance.
“I remember we talked about this,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “The police needed something on our books to give them the authorization to coax or, I don’t know the right word, to go and say “hey, this is against our ordinance, can you move?” Now, as for what the penalties were, I don’t think it even mattered what the penalties were. We wanted to be sure the police were in the guidelines to ask the individual to move from the intersection. That was what was most important for us.”
Chief of Police Cecilia Ashe explained that it is within someone’s constitutional right to beg for money, but when they do it in an aggressive or disorderly manner, it is enforced through Delaware law. In her opinion, Milford Police were already covered under Delaware law to approach someone who was acting in an unsafe manner in an intersection. She also agreed with Councilman Fulton that there needed to be some type of penalty.
“Chapter 1-11 of the city code states, “unless otherwise indicated, the code of the City of Milford or unless otherwise provided under Delaware code, violation of any chapter, article or ordinance of the city of Milford is punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or not more than $500,” City Solicitor David Rutt said. “And it says unless otherwise provided so it would mean that a violation of this ordinance could be a fine of $100.” Rutt suggested that the ordinance could be amended to issue one warning.
Councilman Fulton felt there had to be teeth to an ordinance for it to have any impact. He also felt it would be difficult for the police to know if they had already warned someone once.
“So, officers already have discretion in these enforcement efforts,” Chief Ashe said. “As Councilman James well knows, a lot of these people may be dealing with mental health or drug addictions. We already have components in place to recognize and identify when we’re coming across those type of individuals. So, with that, I would recommend that if it starts at $100 and you’re trying to strike a balance, maybe stay at $100 and not go to $500. But the responsibility of law enforcement officers is to enforce a law that is put into place but that we already have mechanisms built into the policing system here in Milford that identify those that have needs and the officers are very mature in what they do day in and day out. They have that discretion to give somebody a warning even on a traffic stop.”
Councilman Dan Marabello stated that he felt that if someone is a habitual offender of this ordinance, it is unlikely the fines would ever be collected. His concern was that the city would then be putting people in jail. Whitfield explained that this was similar to children on skateboards or bicycles riding on sidewalks. The goal was not to put people in jail or to collect fines, but more to make intersections in Milford safer for everyone.
The ordinance passed with a vote of seven to one. Councilman Brian Baer cast the only dissenting vote, explaining that he did not feel the ordinance was necessary.
“I actually agree with Councilman Baer,” Councilman Culotta said. “But I will vote yes because it is in the interest of public safety.
Councilman Fulton agreed that the ordinance would create safer intersections.
“Being an EMS and seeing a lot of people hurt in intersections hit by cars, I believe this is in the interest of safety,” Councilman Fulton said. “I know Mr. Baer may not have, but it’s pretty terrible to see those injuries. In light of public safety and taking care of people and enforcing it, I vote yes.”
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