Folly aims to limit loitering Laid-back city has a few troublemakers

Many people go to Folly Beach to hang out under the sun, but a proposed ordinance would give police more power to question those whose behavior raises concerns among some residents.

FOLLY BEACH — A proposed ordinance aimed at reducing loitering-related crime could become law in early August.

And while this coastal community has long celebrated its relatively laid-back nature, the change targets a few people who may take that to an extreme.

“We’ve had some repeat calls on the same individuals over and over,” said Chief Andrew Gilreath, director of public safety.

If City Council ultimately approves the ordinance, he said the public need not worry that a trip to Folly to enjoy the ocean breeze or sunset will trigger new scrutiny from police checking to see if they are needlessly dawdling.

“It doesn’t punish somebody for their lifestyle,” Gilreath said. “There’s common sense that’s applied with it, so it’s not like anybody just standing on the corner is going to get talked to.”

The first council vote on the loitering law was unanimous on Tuesday. A final vote could come Aug. 9, and the change would take effect immediately, if approved.

Gilreath described the need for the new law in a letter to council, and he listed several crimes connected to loitering, including theft, assault, harassment, threats, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, littering and overnight camping.

Longtime resident Carol Linville said she favors a reasonably enforced loitering law. Such a measure has been discussed for years.

Officer training will be key to the success of the law, she said, noting, “It’s just a constant judgement call.”

Linville said she doesn’t see a lot of loiterers in her neighborhood on the island east end, but added, “About a month ago we had some oddball character down here across the street from the house.”

Folly, like other beach communities, is subject to extreme seasonal swings in population. While only about 3,000 people call the island home year-round, that number can rise to 20,000 on a summer holiday weekend.

The pending Folly loitering ordinance is modeled after others, including Charleston’s, that have been upheld in the courts, Gilreath said.

Under the proposal, “loiter” means to linger or remain on property including residences, public restrooms, parks, restaurants, bars and parking lots without just cause. Police must give a suspect a chance to identify himself and his residence, explain his behavior and dispel any concerns it may have created.

“It just allows us as the police to be a little more proactive,” Gilreath said.

Penalties per violation may be up to 30 days in jail and an unspecified fine. The ordinance also would allow a judge to issue a court order barring a repeat offender from a city park or other property.

“I feel that it is both fair to the person who may stand accused, but also shows that we are taking a stand in line with the current concerns of our citizenry as it relates to loitering and crime,” Gilreath said in his letter to council.

Mayor Tim Goodwin said the loitering ordinance gives police another tool to address situations such as someone hanging around a neighborhood who seems out of place.

“It also helps us with people who just kind of come out and hang around all day in the parks and playgrounds and kind of give people a reason to think maybe these people don’t need to be here,” he said.

Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms have laws that address loitering. On Sullivan’s, the law applies to impeding traffic or pedestrians or interfering with business or use of private property.

On IOP, remaining idle in a public place in a way that creates a danger is outlawed as is obstructing the free passage of pedestrians or vehicles.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at (843) 937-5711.