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Florida town cracks down on sagging pants problem

Pants on the ground? You could spend six months in jail.

Ocala, a town in central Florida, approved an ordinance this week that tightens the belt for anyone on city-owned property such as sidewalks, parks and pools. Violators could be forced to pay $500 or face jailtime of six months.

“We have the right to say you have to be clothed in public, fashion statement or not,” City Attorney Patrick Gilligan told the Ocala Star Banner.

Enforcing the law would be similar to how officers enforce noise complaints, Gilligan said. If the behavior persists after multiple warnings, that person can face arrest.

Critics of the law – including some local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union – have pointed to the potential for racial profiling. But Ocala Council member Mary Rich, who wrote the ordinance, said targeting specific groups wasn’t her intention.

“It doesn’t matter what color they are,” Rich said. “They all wear their pants down.”

Cities across the country – including New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Miami and Jacksonville, Fla. – have taken steps to crack down on the baggy pants problem.

Wildwood, a family-friendly town known for its boardwalk on the Jersey shore, banned sagging pants and revealing clothing last summer after complaints from tourists. Fines started at $25 but could add up to $200 as well 40 hours of community service.

“I’m not trying to be the fashion police, but personally I find it offensive when a guy’s butt is hanging out,” Wildwood mayor Ernest Troiana said then.

Enforcement of the law has faced challenges in courts. A Florida judge struck down an ordinance in another city in 2008 after a 17-year-old boy spent the night in jail for exposing several inches of his underwear exposed. This week, a Pennsylvania judge dismissed a contempt of court citation against an 18-year-old who was arrested under the policy.

The city attorney in Ocala said the law would not be tough to enforce.

If the individual won’t comply? Police officers will take out their phones to snap photo proof for the judge.

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