Police seek to broaden definition of disorderly conduct slightly

When a police officer visited the Auburn Library recently to see about a man who was allegedly carrying a firearm, he found the guy in a chair, hat pulled down, apparently snoozing.

But when the Auburn officer touched the sleeper, satisfied that he didn't have a weapon, the man reared up, belligerent, bellicose, spoiling for trouble.

"He wasn't doing anything to indicate to the officer that he was going to assault them or anybody else," said Assistant Police Chief Bill Pierson, "but he was clearly trying to get others riled up to engage in other types of behavior deemed dangerous."

Under City regulations, the man's actions did not create a "substantial risk of assault," so the officer could not charge the man with disorderly conduct.

But the recent piling up of incidents like that have prompted police to ask City leaders to broaden the reach of Auburn's disorderly conduct ordinance.

New language, borrowed from the state and other cities, including Bellevue, would widen the definition of disorderly conduct to include anyone "who intentionally engages in conduct that tends to, or is reasonably likely to, disturb the peace, promote disorder, or endanger the safety of others."

"When you are dealing with disorderly conduct and somebody is acting out ... where someone — for lack of a better word — is going crazy, under the old ordinance that has to create a substantial risk of assault. But if it's just this person and the officer, sometimes that's difficult," Pierson said.

In the future, Pierson said, an officer would not have to go as far as saying, "Those are fighting words," he or she would only have to determine that somebody's out-of-control behavior could endanger others.

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