OPELOUSAS — Police Chief Donald Thompson told the Opelousas Board of Aldermen on Tuesday he’s not afraid to go to court to defend any proposed citywide ordinance banning the public wearing of sagging pants.
Also on Tuesday, the board unanimously rescinded last month’s action to pay former mayor Anna Simmons $28,000 to serve as legal advisor and consultant for the Police Department.
As for the sagging pants issue, Thompson asked the board and legal adviser Garrett Duplechain to examine the possibility of adopting a municipal ordinance prohibiting wearing sagging pants in public.
Alderwoman Sherelle Roberts suggested instead enforcing an existing ordinance dealing with indecent exposure.
“Shouldn’t we start with that before we pass an ordinance?” Roberts asked.
“I’m not coming here tonight and asking for a vote,” Thompson said. “Let’s study it. Let’s review it. I’m only asking for a discussion.”
Thompson said he’s aware the city could face some legal challenges, particularly by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I’m prepared to go to court or whatever the case may be,” the police chief said.
Duplechain said court opposition to a sagging ordinance would be based on limiting freedom of speech.
In a letter to the board of aldermen, ACLU of Louisiana executive director Marjorie Esman wrote that “the government does not belong in the business of telling people what to wear.”
She also “urged (the board) not to support that proposal which is a violation of constitutional rights.”
Esman also said in the letter that “clothing is a form of expression.”
The city, Esman wrote, should not “make a criminal of everyone whose pants are not high enough to suit the tastes of the council.”
Thompson said Ville Platte and Youngsville have passed ordinances outlawing sagging, but he hasn’t reviewed them.
Alderman Tyrone Glover said the board might want to consider a wide interpretation of a sagging ordinance, such as targeting abbreviated shorts he called “daisy dukes,” which are worn by women.
Alderwoman Jacqueline Martin said she prefers a personal approach with the young men wearing sagging pants, rather than strict ordinances or fines.
“If you pull them aside and ask them to please pull up your pants, I’ve found they usually smile at me and do so. I think we should go to them respectfully. All these young men are asking is for someone to respect them,” Martin said.
Also on Tuesday, there was little discussion of Thompson’s request to rescind its approval of his proposal last month to hire Simmons — a matter the council approved on a 5-1 vote. Voting no was Blair Briggs.
In an interview, Thompson said further review of his budget indicated the department does not have enough money to hire Simmons.
“I looked at the (police) budget and realized there were some delinquent bills that were just coming in and if I did not rescind (hiring Simmons), we might fall short.
“The budget I was looking at last month was not accurate and after receiving those bills, they needed to be paid,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he did get feedback from the public about his request to hire Simmons.
“I was told by some people that we already had one city attorney, so why did we need another,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he also was approached by the aldermen over the matter.
“They (the board) also raised some questions, even though they voted on it and approved it,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he will use the $28,000 initially earmarked for Simmons to hire two new officers, bringing the city’s total to 43 officers.