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Fee for when police called multiple times to large gatherings?

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A hot new sneaker drew huge crowds to the Greenwood Park Mall, where security told police they had everything under control.

They didn’t, and police had to come back to disperse the rowdy shoppers.

As many as 600 people sprinted across the mall’s parking lot in February when they thought it was time to get in line for the limited-edition Nike Foamposite Galaxy shoes, raising fears that someone would get trampled. Police chief John Laut called it a near-riot.

Greenwood police want to ensure that, in the future, things don’t get out of hand when so many people gather in one place. They plan to send a bill for the officers’ time if they have to come back more than once to restore order, disperse people or watch over any gathering with 10 or more people.

What’s proposed

Greenwood plans to adopt new special events rules. Here’s a look:

Fee: Police can charge up to $500 for the officers’ time if they respond more than once to a large event where more than 10 people have gathered and they find there is a threat to public peace, health, safety or general welfare.

Who pays: The responsible party, typically the property owner, would be held liable for the cost of security or other police services. If a minor hosted a party that brought police back twice, the child and the parent would be jointly responsible.

How the fee works: Police show up once and issue a warning. The city would charge for the cost of personnel and equipment used if police have to come back.

Permits: $25 permits are required for any special events, but the process for obtaining them is streamlined so that organizers don’t have to go to three different offices.

What’s required: Organizers must submit paperwork with the deputy mayor’s office that includes the estimated number of people who would attend, any parade route and other information.

Exceptions: The special events permitting requirements would be waived for city-authorized events, such as if high school sports teams or marching bands planned to have public celebrations after winning state championships.

Charges: Organizers of special events would have to pay Greenwood for the time of any city employees who are needed, such as police officers or parks department employees.

What’s next: The Greenwood City Council will consider the proposal at its next meeting Dec. 17.

Residents could have to pay up to $500 if they or their kids were hosting a party at their home and police have to come back a second time. Event organizers or businesses that have a highly sought-after product could avoid the fine by notifying police in advance and letting them plan the security, Laut said.

The goals of the fee are to recoup the cost of sending officers on unexpected security details, to discourage out-of-control gatherings and to encourage people to arrange to have police provide proper security if they’re expecting big crowds at a large event, Laut said. Police would be able to schedule more officers to work if they knew they’d have to provide security and then could still continue their normal patrols.

“This isn’t a revenue generator,” he said. “The point is not to bring in revenue.”

Laut is asking for the new fee as part of an update of the city’s rules for special events. The proposed rules would require organizers to pay for the time of any city employees, such as police officers or parks department employees, who have to work an event. The plan would make it easier to get a special events permit, especially for high school sports teams or marching bands celebrating championships.

The Greenwood City Council must approve the proposal, and will consider it at the next meeting Dec. 17.

The proposed fee for police response would be a first in Johnson County.

Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan said his department doesn’t charge any fees for providing security or sending officers anywhere. Franklin Police Department officers can be hired to provide private security while they’re off-duty, but the department doesn’t ever charge for responses or added security, he said.

Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said his office also doesn’t charge any fees for sending officers out more than once, providing extra security or responding to calls. The office, however, plans to consider fining property owners who draw police out with repeated false alarms, he said.

“There wouldn’t be fines for legitimate alarms,” he said. “But we’d look at where we’re running out two, three, four times a day.”

In Greenwood, Laut is proposing holding private property owners responsible for the costs of police services and special security at any large events that have gotten out of hand. They’d also have to pay if there’s a return call after they’ve been warned about a disturbance.

Greenwood would charge for the cost of the officers’ time and any equipment used to provide security or disperse a crowd. The total bill would be capped at $500 for a single incident.

Residents would get a bill in the mail and would have 30 days to pay.

City attorney Krista Taggart said that police have the legal right to ask for payment for return trips and extra security. The city might not be able to collect the fee if police break up a fraternity party and the hosts can’t afford to pay but likely would recoup its expenses if, for example, shoppers stormed a national chain store in search of footwear, she said.

Greenwood decided to pursue the requirement after the mad rush for the shoes at the Greenwood Park Mall earlier this year. What made the shoes sought-after was that they glow in the dark and reportedly resell on the Internet for thousands of dollars.

Hundreds of people started racing to get in line, damaging a landscaping light in the parking lot. Greenwood police had to call in backup from five police departments to handle the crowd.

“It was near-riot. We had to call in officers from all over the county, and I can’t tell you how much money we spent on that situation,” Laut said.

Police have faced similar issues, such as when an altercation broke out at a ceremonial wrestling match and the entire shift had to respond, Laut said. They could have scheduled enough officers to both patrol the streets and provide security if they had known about the event in advance, he said.

Laut said that police would prefer to come up with a security plan for handling events instead of officers returning more than once.

“It’s a deterrent,” he said. “We want them to contact us to begin with.”

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