City police officers began Sunday issuing civil citations -- a tool that top police officials have sought to battle nuisance crimes since Commissioner Kevin P. Clark took over the force a year ago.
The violations, which carry fines and no criminal penalties, deal with a variety of minor offenses -- from public urination to loitering. Fines range from $25 for spitting to $500 for distributing cigarettes to minors.
Maj. John P. Skinner, commander of the Central District, said his officers began issuing the citations yesterday. Small groups of officers have been given ticket books and more are being trained on how to issue citations, Skinner said.
"It's going to be really, really helpful," Skinner said. "It gives [officers] another tool, and it's pretty efficient."
Skinner said the tickets would be particularly helpful in battling such nuisance crimes as urinating in public outside bars and strip clubs on The Block.
Police officials have said the citations will keep officers on the streets longer to deal with more pressing problems by cutting down on time spent processing arrests. Also, they will help prevent people from generating criminal records and reduce caseloads in criminal courts.
The issue generated debate last summer between city officials who wanted to give police more authority to attack nuisance crimes and those who worried about giving too much power to law enforcement.
The City Council voted 16-0 in August to approve the civil citation legislation.