Them’s fightin’ words

POULSBO — It’s expensive to lose your temper in the city of Poulsbo.

If the situation comes to blows, that is.

An ordinance defining fighting in public — including verbal bouts that could incite violence — as a gross misdemeanor was adopted by the Poulsbo City Council Wednesday night.

A violation of the new rule is punishable by one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

While putting up dukes in public has always been a crime, Poulsbo Police Department’s Sgt. Robert Wright said the ordinance is a tool to allow officers to make an arrest before things get out of hand.

Previously, officers had to wait until fisticuffs were under way.

The ordinance was first written for the city of Port Orchard, and Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said Jeff Jahns, the district and municipal court division chief, worked hard to make the provision constitutional. He said detailing specifics was important to avoid hitting free speech blockades.

Poulsbo’s newly adopted ordinance mirrors that of Port Orchard.

Wright said people in Poulsbo “can still spout off,” and the ordinance is not meant to take away any freedom of expression. It is more tailored to protecting the victims of physical violence.

“It’s really about the victim, keeping those people safe,” he said. “It gives these people the sense of, ‘Yeah, I can be downtown and enjoy it without feeling like someone’s going to come in here and beat me up.’ ”

The ordinance adoption language stipulates that the city’s “Disorderly Conduct” code has proven an insufficient tool for the PPD to maintain public order, and that officers are “frequently called to respond to fights in public.”

Wright said fracases usually tend to surface in or near drinking establishments or during large events like Viking Fest.

The ordinance defines “fight” as:

• “a verbal altercation which tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace; and/or

• a breach of the peace whether or not it is preceded by a verbal altercation.”

“Verbal altercation” is listed as an angry argument, quarrel or disagreement that is reasonably likely to provoke a belligerent response.

Simplified, Wright said the ordinance is meant to stop those “purposefully going out to start a fight with what (they’re) saying.”

He said the rule is mainly meant as a deterrent and an encouragement to drink responsibly. For those few with a penchant for brawling, it gives the PPD an early start on heading off the ruckus.

He also said it is “moldable to each individual instance.”

So before coming to verbal and physical clashes, citizens may want to think twice, at least think about their surroundings.

“If you want to start a fight, it’s probably not a good idea to start it in town,” Wright said.

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