City looks to retain fight ordinance fines

BY CHRIS CLARK | JUNE 10, 2009 7:28 AM

A proposed change to include fights and other violent behavior under Iowa City’s ordinance against disorderly conduct would mean more money for the city and less for the state.

The city’s definition of disorderly conduct does not currently include a clause covering violence and brawls, so now police arrest and fine perpetrators under the state statute.

“We’re making it more similar to state code, so officers can write [the citation] under the local ordinance,” Assistant City Attorney Sara Greenwood Hektoen said. The city would then be able to collect on the fines.

Disorderly conduct is a simple misdemeanor under Iowa codes, and fines can range from $65 to $625.

The Iowa City police distinguish between assault and disorderly conduct. A fight — involving more than one aggressor — is classified as the latter.

Iowa City City Councilor Mike Wright said he is in favor of changing the ordinance and noted that the amendment would close a loophole by tightening the language.

“From my standpoint, it should be written in clearly, and it wasn’t,” he said.

Iowa City police Officer Erik Lippold said police usually charge people acting violently or fighting with disorderly conduct as it is, and he was unsure how exactly the amended ordinance would change enforecement.

It is also unclear how things would change for those charged with the crime, said Greg Bal, the director of UI Student Legal Services. Bal represents students in the Johnson County legal system.

“I’m not sure it’s going to make much of a difference,” he said. The ordinance is “kind of just a preventive measure. That’s the goal of criminal statutes — so that kind of behavior is not engaged in.”

Bal compared the proposed disorderly-conduct charge with PAULA — or an underage drinking ticket — which is also considered a simple misdemeanor. PAULA charges carry a standard fine and can be enforced either at the state or city level.

If the disorderly conduct ordinance is amended, Bal said, police would have the same option, but fines are up to the discretion of the judge.

The City Council will discuss the issue at its next work session, June 15.

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