Enforcement of Flint Saggy Pants Rule is Unconstitutional and Must be Stopped

FLINT – In a letter today to the City of Flint Police Chief, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan warned that the Police Department’s enforcement of jail time and fines for wearing saggy pants and the practice of stopping and searching individuals wearing saggy pants are unconstitutional and should be stopped immediately.

“Under no stretch of the imagination does wearing saggy pants that reveal the top of one’s boxer shorts violate the Flint Disorderly Conduct Ordinance,” said Gregory Gibbs, ACLU of Michigan Flint Branch President and Cooperating Attorney. “It is clear that the ordinance provision that is cited by the police chief requires that a person openly expose certain body parts to be guilty.  Flint residents should be embarrassed by this colossal waste of time and scarce resources.”

 On June 26, 2008, Flint Police Chief David R. Dicks sent a memo to all police officers directing them to begin enforcing disorderly conduct and indecent exposure laws against individuals wearing saggy pants.

The memo read “This immoral ‘self expression’ goes beyond free speech; it rises to the crime of indecent exposure/disorderly persons.” It is punishable by 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. Furthermore, according to a Detroit Free Press article, the police chief said that wearing sagging pants is probable cause for a search. He is then seen on video searching young men who are wearing saggy pants. He is also seen approaching individuals who are wearing long jerseys or t-shirts that reach well below the top of the men’s pants. The police chief is then observed lifting up their shirts revealing their boxer shorts to the camera and warning them that they are committing a crime. 

The ACLU claims that “This practice is akin to lifting a woman’s skirt in front of the camera to expose her underwear and then telling her she is indecently exposed.  It must stop.”

According to the ACLU letter, “Your new practice of stopping, searching and threatening young men with disorderly conduct for wearing ‘saggy pants’ is a blatant violation of the United States Constitution. Although you were recently appointed Chief of the Flint Police Department, you cannot appoint yourself as the chief of the ‘fashion police.’ You have no power to criminalize a style of dress simply because you find it distasteful.” Read the letter here.

In the letter, the ACLU claims that the new policy authorizes unconstitutional searches and seizures, promotes racial profiling, violates due process principles and interferes with an individuals’ liberty interest in their personal appearance. The ACLU has asked the police chief to immediately revise the policy and inform officers that they cannot stop, search or charge individuals for disorderly conduct or indecent exposure merely for wearing sagging pants.

The ACLU requested a reply from the police chief by Monday, July 21, 2008 and warned that if the policy was not changed by then, the ACLU would be open to representing any Flint resident who has been stopped, searched, threatened or charged with a misdemeanor for wearing sagging pants, or any resident who has a legitimate fear that he would be stopped, searched and/or charged with a misdemeanor if he wore sagging pants.

To read the ACLU of Michigan letter, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/flintsaggypantsletter.pdf

To read the City of Flint Police Chief’s memo, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/flintsaggypantsmemo.pdf

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