LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - The Laurel Police Department and Mayor Johnny Magee are asking citizens to pull their pants up when they are out in public.
"We're trying to bring awareness to our young people to pull up your pants," Police Chief Tyrone Stewart said. "No one wants to see your underwear."
Chief Stewart put up the first sign outside of the municipal court court building Tuesday morning.
"When you come here to our facilities, we want you to act right," Stewart said. "On a weekly basis, you see these young people coming to court, and the way they're dressed with their pants hanging below their buttocks, and you have to have one of the personnel here to tell them to 'pull up your pants before you come in the courtroom.' That's disturbing because that's something these young people should have learned at home."
Stewart said his department is stepping in and trying to close that educational gap.
"We're not here to regulate exactly what you've got on, but they're walking a fine line with the law of how they are dressing," Stewart said. "And a lot of times, I really don't think they have somebody in their lives that is just being honest and telling them the truth, 'Hey, when you go, people are going to look at you different whether you're doing business or whether you're trying to get a job, they look at how you are dressed.'"
Mayor Johnny Magee said, "We want people's minds to be on this. You open doors going into stores now, and you've got 'please pull up your pants before you come in. If you don't pull up your pants, don't come in.' It shouldn't be that way. It shouldn't have to get to that point that you have to tell people to pull their pants up. Of course, I talked to a police officer in Atlanta. He said they love it because as soon as they start running, they can't run. Their pants are going to fall down, and they're going to trip themselves up. So they don't even realize that they want to be criminals, but with their pants down, it's a plus for the police department."
Magee said he has been discussing baggy pants since he was a city council member.
"I used to do a newsletter every month and distribute it throughout Ward 6,' Magee said. "I would always put in the newsletter things that I noticed during that month, and pretty much every month, I had in there that you need to pull your pants up because nobody wanted to see your drawers."
The city of Laurel does not have any kind of ordinance against baggy or saggy pants, but Stewart said he and Magee are working with city attorney Deidra Bassi on drafting one.
"She has some concerns about the constitutionality of it if somebody chose to challenge it, but we're going to get there," Magee said. "We'll see what happens there. There are other cities that have done it in Mississippi and in other states, so we'll be looking closely at that to see what we can come up with."
"Banning saggy pants in public is an affront to the Constitution and puts people at risk of being arrested for behavior that offends some people's sensibilities, but is not criminal," the ACLU-MS said in a 2012 statement. "The impact of ordinances like the proposed saggy pants ban in Hinds County will be far reaching: it gives police the opportunity to stop and search people, even if the officers have no reason to believe they have committed any wrongdoing apart from a 'fashion crime.'"
Magee said, "I grew up in an era where we were taught to dress neatly. We were taught to put our shirt in out pants, have a belt on, have your jeans clean, and it's a different era now. Now everybody wants to be able to walk around anyway they want to, and they say it's their freedom. And that is true, but the people that fought and died, the revolutionary fathers, those are not the freedoms they were talking about. They were talking about things like freedom of religion, freedom of the press freedom of assembly. Those kinds of things, not freedom to be half naked in public."
The Hinds County ban was not approved by its board of supervisors.
Stewart said the department purchased 50 signs to put up around the city, so taxpayers paid for the signs even though there is no ordinance on the books.
"Anytime when you are educating your public, educating your public and bringing awareness to something you can prevent later on and helping someone, it's tax money that's well spent," Stewart said.
Magee said, "If you walk around in Laurel, pull you pants up. You know, look decent. Look like you belong to somebody. It's like you see stray dogs sometimes in the street. They don't look like they belong to anybody, and sometimes you see these people in the streets, they don't look like they belong to anybody. So we want you to look like you belong to somebody, pull your pants up, especially if your drawers are nasty, you really need to pull them up."
Stewart said if bare skin is showing, the person in the baggy pants violates Mississippi's indecent exposure code, MS Code § 97-29-31 (2013).
"If you're wearing your pants three inches below your waist, and an officer does see your bare skin, that is part of the requirement of indecent exposure," Stewart said.
Stewart said he is planning on placing signs at Laurel's mall entrances, but also said he is looking for public input about where to place the other 49 signs.