Loitering: What is it? How Can You Stop It?

Loitering is not easy to define or to control. It is important to understand what constitutes loitering and how you can prevent it from leading to criminal activity on your property. You have likely seen no loitering signs posted in store windows, but what exactly is loitering? The definition of loitering is likely to change due to social distancing mandates during and after coronavirus quarantine.

What is loitering?

Warning No Loitering Sign

To loiter, or prowl, means to remain idle in a public place for a protracted time without any apparent purpose. The legal definition of loitering can vary by state, and can also include wearing masks or disguises in public. The essence of loitering is that an individual is engaged in suspicious behavior that causes justifiable concern that a crime will be committed against a person or property.¹

Examples of loitering

Loitering ordinances and statutes enable law enforcement to cut down on crimes such as prostitution, solicitation, panhandling, begging, drug dealing and other illegal acts. Standing outside of a business for a prolonged period of time is not in itself a punishable crime in most places, but is often known to be associated with illegal acts. However, if a business has a visible no loitering sign posted, police can take action against loiterers without other cause.²

Loitering laws give police the right to disperse suspicious or potentially dangerous crowds. The enforcement of loitering ordinances has been met with much controversy over the years.

Is loitering a felony?

Loitering is a subjective offense. In some places, loitering is a crime in and of itself. In other places, police must observe criminal behavior before they can confront a suspected person.

Loitering is most commonly a city or town ordinance, not state law.

Why is loitering an issue?

Loitering is a vague and subjective act and is difficult to punish. Business owners, schools, public spaces and venues often post no loitering signs to help prevent loitering that can lead to criminal behavior. If a person or group of people stands outside of a convenience store late at night, for a prolonged period, they may be suspected of selling drugs, begging, panhandling and more. If not dispersed, loiterers can also grow to become a disorderly or violent crowd.

Moreover, loiterers can deter other customers. When stagnant individuals or large crowds convene around a store entrance, for example, they can make incoming customers feel unsafe. In this case, the store owner may contact police to have the loiterers removed. A business owner, and the police, have grounds to disperse loiterers when there is a visible no loitering sign posted.

How can loitering be prevented/avoided?

There are a few simple steps you can take to reduce the chance of loitering on your public property.

1. Install a security camera and post a surveillance sign.

When people see that your building is under surveillance, they’re much less likely to stick around unnecessarily.

2. Perform regular maintenance and upkeep to your building, parking lot and entrance.

A well maintained commercial property helps deter loiterers. Unruly crowds, graffiti artists, skateboarders, drug dealers and other individuals are likely to avoid well maintained areas due to the heightened chance of police presence. Keep your parking lot free of trash, broken glass and debris. Provide adequate lighting at night and ensure all signage is in maintained and working order.

3. Provide trash and recycling receptacles inside and outside your building

Give people adequate opportunity to properly dispose of waste. This will help cut down on litter, and will let passersby know your business is under watch. There are many recycling signs to choose from that will help reduce litter and support your effort to go green.

4. Remove graffiti and vandalism quickly

If graffiti is painted on your building or in your parking lot, remove it within 24 hours if possible. Walk your business grounds daily to ensure signs, light fixtures and windows are secure and not broken. A well-maintained building lets people know you keep an eye on your property and that police will be contacted in the case of trespassing, loitering or vandalism.

5. Deter overnight loitering by eliminating potential sleeping areas

Closed Sign Hanging on a Glass Window Door

Unfortunately, transient individuals have no place to call home. They may resort to sleeping on commercial property, and if you’re concerned with overnight loitering on your business grounds, you’ll want to reduce potential sleeping areas. You can do this by locking public restrooms at night, planting thorny bushes, installing dividers or arm rests on benches or by installing gates that are locked after hours.

6. Play loud music or distracting sounds

There are also more unconventional but effective ways to reduce loitering. Many store owners have used music or annoying sounds to disperse crowds. A 7-Eleven owner in Modesto, California, for example, started blasting classical music and operas outside of his store.³

Loud music makes it harder for people to stand around, gossip and cause trouble. Annoying buzzing or screeching sounds can also be used. Store owners can turn these on and off as needed, which reduces the danger of them asking loiterers to leave their property.4

Order No Loitering Signs and Other Property Signs Online

First and foremost, to let customers and passersby know that the shop owner does not condone loitering, vandalism or trespassing, signs must be posted. A posted sign provides the initial warning that certain acts will not be tolerated, and gives the business owner grounds to call law enforcement if a person or group of people refuses to leave the property.

CustomSigns.com offers hundreds of templates that can be ordered as is, or customized to your needs. Shop all property signs here.

Read more about:
How to prevent soliciting
Which solicitors to look out for after storms and natural disasters

1. https://www.husseinandwebber.com/crimes/public-order-obstruction/loitering-and-prowling/
2. https://legaldictionary.net/loitering
3. https://nypost.com/2018/04/30/this-7-eleven-has-a-unique-way-to-stop-loitering-panhandling/
4. https://www.universalsiteservices.com/how-to-discourage-loitering/

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