IOWA CITY — Iowa City wants another tool to address loud house parties, but an attorney who works with college students believes it would be unconstitutional.
Iowa City staffers are proposing that the city code be changed to allow police officers to issue a civil citation for a disorderly house charge. Currently it’s handled with a criminal complaint, but occupants — typically college students — are increasingly refusing to open the door for officers, city officials said.
In those situations, a search warrant would be necessary to get inside, but that would require a county attorney and a judge to sign off, and the incidents typically occur in the middle of the night. That process can take a couple of hours, which means officers need to either wait around or not pursue the issue.
“I think it can be more effective in how we enforce that disorderly house regulation,” said Doug Boothroy, Iowa City’s director of housing and inspection services.
The City Council is to vote Tuesday on an ordinance amending the city’s nuisance rental property regulations to allow for a civil citation when occupants do not answer the door.
Everyone who lives at the residence would receive the citation. That drew criticism from Greg Bal, supervising attorney for the University of Iowa Student Legal Services, who said it means someone who wasn’t home at the time of the party would be cited. That would violate the person’s due process rights, he said, and he doesn’t believe the charge would He said warrants are needed for criminal cases and an exception shouldn’t be made here.
Getting a warrant makes a police officer’s job harder, he said, “but if you want to make it real easy, just allow police to arrest and charge whoever they want whenever they want.”
Boothroy said that whether someone was not home during a party could be sorted out in court.
Bal said in this tough job market, more and more prospective employers inquire not only about arrests but also charges, so this proposal would have consequences for students. A violation would be a simple misdemeanor or municipal infraction with a $750 fine for a first offense and a $1,000 fine for subsequent offenses.
Under the current code, an initial violation involving a rental property leads to a letter being sent to tenants and landlords. A second violation results in a meeting. Problems almost always stop after the meeting, Boothroy said.
Allowing for a civil citation would let that process start sooner in the cases in which someone doesn’t allow police inside a home, he said.
Bal said his office does not advise students not to answer the door, but when asked they say someone is not legally required to let officers in without a warrant. He said he recommends students be polite and cooperative with police officers.
Sgt. Denise Brotherton, spokeswoman for the Iowa City Police Department, said that while a loud party can lead to citations, officers often are just telling people to turn their music down or to break up the party. She said refusing to answer the door can lead to more problems for the occupants.
“You’ll have consequences because we’re not just going to leave it alone … you pretty much guaranteed yourself a ticket now,” she said.
Disorderly house arrests have increased since the city’s law banning people younger than 21 from bars at night went into effect in mid-2010. There were 165 arrests in 2009 and 244 in 2011, according to Police Department statistics.
Brotherton said that increase is a combination of the 21-only law and officers being able to spend more time away from the downtown bar scene. The department said this week it would continue its “party patrols” in the neighborhoods near campus.