The Burien, WA City Council recently passed a trespassing ordinance banning people with offensive body odor from publicly-owned facilities. Repeat offenders could be banned from city properties for up to one year and, in some cases, could be placed under arrest.
By Barry Donegan @ Ben Swann
Burien, WA, a suburb fifteen or so miles outside of Seattle, is cracking down on citizens with unpleasant body odor. According to KIRO-TV, the Burien City Council passed a new trespassing law last month which targets various untoward behaviors on “publicly-owned property” and “property generally open to the public.” Those found in violation of the ordinance will be issued a trespass warning and banned from all of the city’s public facilities for seven days. Repeat offenders could be arrested for trespassing and banned from city property for up to one year.
In addition to banning “unsafe,” “dangerous,” and “illegal” behavior in places like parks, libraries, and government buildings, the ordinance categorizes “bodily hygiene or scent that is unreasonably offensive to others” and “behavior that is unreasonably inconsistent with the normal use for which the publicly owned property was designed and intended to be used (e.g. bathing, shaving, or washing clothes in a public bathroom or skateboarding in a public parking area or plaza)” as being “unreasonably disruptive to other users.”
The ordinance effectively defines having bad body odor in public as an act of trespassing. American Civil Liberties Union spokesperson Doug Honig, who characterized the ordinance as unconstitutional, told KIRO-TV, “This one is too vague, gives police too much discretion to decide… Some people can be offended by other people’s perfumes, although it’s hard to believe that a well-dressed middle class woman is going to be booted out of the library for her perfume, whereas a homeless person is much more likely to be targeted.”
According to the text of the ordinance, “At the hearing, the violation must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence in order to uphold the trespass warning. The hearing examiner shall consider a sworn report or declaration from the officer who issued the trespass warning or upon whose observation the trespass warning was based, without further evidentiary foundation, as prima facie evidence that the offender committed the violation as described. The hearing examiner may consider information that would not be admissible under the evidence rules in a court of law but that the hearing examiner considers relevant and trustworthy.” This would appear to give officers extraordinary discretion in determining whether or not an individual’s body odor is unreasonably offensive.
City Manager Kamuron Gurol defended the ordinance in comments to KIRO-TV, “Occasionally, people will, unfortunately, have such a bodily odour that it’s very hard for other patrons to be in that same space.”
The local B-Town Blog notes that Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz, the only official to vote against the measure, called it “dangerous and unnecessary.” She described equal access to government facilities as a human right, citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights to defend her point, and said, “…so I think that trespassing people and preventing them from engaging in these human right activities warrants something that is gravely egregious.” She also criticized the fact that violations can be issued based only on a preponderance of evidence.
In another article on B-Town Blog, Scott Schaefer wrote, “Many residents believe this ordinance was created to deal with a homeless population that was gathering at Annex Park, as well as people who frequent the library and city hall building.”