May 16, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 19

Skateboarders at odds with police

Clashes between skateboarders and police over legal riding turf are heating up and may bring a push to change the law.

Skateboarders claim police are unfairly profiling and harassing them with the threat of citations, while Haines Borough cops say they’re only enforcing the laws on the books.

Interim police chief Simon Ford said dispatch receives three to four calls a week from people complaining about skateboarders weaving in and out of traffic and riding down the sidewalks in front of downtown businesses. Ford said he also gets calls from residents chastising cops for hassling the boarders.

“We get a lot of calls like, ‘You need to stop harassing these skateboarders and leave these kids alone. They’re doing something good and there are a lot worse things they could be doing.’ And then we get a lot of calls from people: ‘You got to get control of these skateboarders,’” Ford said.

Ford, officer Jason Rettinger and officer Josh Knore responded to the Port Chilkoot Dock on the evening of May 9 to break up a group of about 10 youths, some of whom were skateboarding around the dock parking lot. The officers told the skateboarders what they were doing was illegal, passed out copies of the borough code regarding skateboarding, and warned them to stop.

Fourteen-year-old skateboarder Dawson Evenden was among those warned. Mom Leslie Evenden took issue with the show of force and asked why skateboarding isn’t allowed in an empty parking lot. “No Skateboarding” signs are posted there.

“Why did they feel like it was important to harass those teens?...They weren’t bothering anybody. They weren’t doing anything dangerous,” Leslie Evenden said.

Charlie Bower, 14, also was skateboarding at the dock last Thursday. Bower said he has been warned about five times by the cops for skateboarding in “illegal” areas, although Bower insists “skateboarding is not a crime.”

“They say skateboarding damages the pavement and it marks it and stuff, but it does it the same amount as bikes do,” Bower said.

Under borough law, skateboarding is prohibited at Lookout Park and on the following sidewalks: Main Street between Third Avenue and Front Street; Second Avenue between Main and Dalton streets; Third Avenue between Main Street and Old Haines Highway, and Main Street between Third and Fifth avenues during school hours and a half hour preceding and following school. 

Skateboarders must also stay clear of the roadway, excluding shoulders, and obey signage, according to borough code. Negligent operation of skateboards is prohibited. Negligent means to operate a device “in a manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.”

Bower, Leslie Evenden, and Dawson Evenden said they would like to see code changed to put skateboards on equal footing with bicycles, but Ford pointed out the two modes of transportation are different and merit different rules.

  “They’re not the same as bicycles. They don’t have brakes, they’re harder to control, harder to steer,” Ford said.

Bikes are allowed, and expected, to ride in the roadway along with traffic, Ford said.

Ford wrote a citation for unlawful use of a skateboard Friday, the department’s first such ticket of the year. The skateboarder was weaving back and forth across the road on Second Avenue and gesturing rudely at motorists, Ford said.

“That’s one of the reasons we haven’t written a lot of citations, is because we’re trying to educate them. I don’t expect everybody that buys a skateboard from Mike’s Bikes and Boards to go read the borough code,” he said.

A citation is $25 for a first offense, and increases in increments of $5 for each subsequent violation.  

Resident Nick Marquardt is trying to organize skateboarders and approach borough officials about a possible code change. “The way that they’ve been treating the kids for skateboarding is inappropriate, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a pro-social outdoor recreation form. That’s the kind of thing that should be encouraged in every way possible by the township of Haines, so I don’t get why they’re making it illegal. They haven’t banned it, but pretty close,” Marquardt said.

Marquardt said a frequent objection he hears is skateboarders should be using the recently constructed skate park instead of riding around town on the roadways. But by that logic, all activities should be relegated to a specific area.

“It’s still a double standard. Are we going to freak out on kids for playing tag somewhere other than the park? Probably not,” Marquardt said.

Dawson Evenden also pointed out the skate park is not conducive to longboarding. Longboards are used more for transportation, while skateboards are used for tricks, he said.

“The skate park is for skateboarding, and what most of us are trying to do is longboard. And it’s no fun to go to the skate park when it’s sunny out and nice,” Evenden said.

Ford said code establishes a reasonable balance between the rights of skateboarders and the public concerning property and safety, but said he wouldn’t necessarily balk at the idea of changing the law.

  “Whatever society wants to do with changing those laws is fine with me. I’m just going to go enforce whatever is on the books,” Ford said.