Saturday, June 15, 2013


What is loitering, anyway?

Woe is the poor bureaucrat whose job it is to write this chapter of the municipal code. Not quite all loitering definitions are as comically tautological as New York's ("A person is guilty of loitering when he: loiters"), but almost all of definitions evidence a considerable amount of struggle and provoke a very basic question: how can such vague language be enforceable? (To say nothing of the murky First Amendment issues in play here.) 

Here is a sampling of some of our favorite loitering definitions, taken from ordinances around the country:

-"'loiter' means to delay or linger without a lawful purpose for being on the property and for the purpose of committing a crime as opportunity may be discovered."
--California Laws, Penal Code

" a person commits the defense of loitering or prowling when he is in a place at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity."
--Legal definition of loitering in Georgia

"Loitering--remaining idle in essentially one location, and includes the concept of spending time idly, to be dilatory, to linger, to stay, to saunter, to delay, to stand around and shall also include the colloquial expression "hanging around."
--Township committee of the Township of Barnegat, Ocean County, New Jersey

"If a person is said to be loitering, it means that he/she is standing around idly, delaying, wandering around, remaining, or tarrying in a public place."
--Colorado state's definition of loitering  

“Loiter: to idle, stand, remain, tarry or collect, gather or be a member of a group or crowd of people who are gathered together on any commercial or public premises (a) without conducting any lawful business or communication with the owner or operator thereof or (b) having completed such business or commencement, to remain on such premises an unreasonable length of time where prohibited by signs or after having been directed to leave by such owner, operator or authorized agent or a police officer."
--City of District Heights, Maryland's definition of loitering

"Loitering defined...F. Returns, for no apparent lawful business or purpose, to the same public or private property from which the person was asked to leave within the previous 24 hours."
--City of Glenarden, Maryland's definition of loitering

"Loiter- To sit, stand, loaf, lounge, wander or stroll in an aimless manner or to stop, pause or remain in an area for no obvious reason."
--Village of Albany's definition of loitering