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City eyeing ban on Dumpster diving

People caught digging through garbage cans could face a $500 citation and time in jail if the Modesto City Council on Tuesday passes a proposal to ban Dumpster diving.

Police had a hand in writing the ordinance, which they say would give officers the authority to search Dumpster divers for signs of attempting to commit identity theft.

Officers last month also said the ordinance would rein in public health risks from garbage strewn about on streets.

The proposed ordinance says "there is an increasing problem both nationally and locally involving persons who forage waste containers." It does not quantify complaints from residents, but says the Police Department frequently receives calls about Dumpster divers.

The measure faces strong opposition from Councilman Will O'Bryant, who said it's unrealistic to expect police to respond to calls of Dumpster diving and unreasonable to issue $500 citations to the homeless.

"This is the greatest country in the world," O'Bryant said. "It's a free country, but do we want to make criminals out of people who are so poor that they're going through another man's garbage?"

Councilwoman Kristin Olsen supports the measure. Her husband, Rod, was a victim of identity theft after he said someone rifled through a commercial Dumpster and obtained financial information he left with a Modesto brokerage firm.

In other business, the council is expected to vote on an ordinance that would increase penalties for people drinking alcohol in city parks without a permit.

That offense now is an infraction that can be resolved by paying a fine.

The Modesto Police Department wants the city to stiffen that penalty by making the offense a misdemeanor, which would allow police to arrest obstinate drinkers who do not respond to fines and requests to leave parks.

O'Bryant opposes that proposal, too. "You don't pass laws because you can," he said.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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