PORT CLINTON, Ohio - Port Clinton olice are cracking down on property owners who haven't cleared snow from their sidewalks, and violators could face charges.
After several rounds of snowfall, sidewalks in front of some homes remained buried under more than a foot of snow.
"Unfortunately, when people don't take it upon themselves to clean their sidewalks, that's when we have to get involved," Port Clinton Police Det. Sgt. Corbin Carpenter said.
Friday, officers began going door to door in search of snow-covered sidewalks. They issued written warnings to violators to clear sidewalks within 24 hours or face a misdemeanor charge.
They're enforcing a 60-year-old Port Clinton city ordinance requiring property owners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks within 12 hours after a storm ends.
Sergeant Carpenter said he can't remember the department ever issuing a citation for this in his 18 years with the department, but the growing problem forced police to act.
"If we have to be the bad guy and have people mad at us, we're willing to do that," Carpenter said.
Carpenter said police received complaints from several parents from the past couple weeks about school-aged children having to walk in streets to get around snowy sidewalks. In one case, a child fell and was on the ground for 20 minutes before a passerby stepped in to help.
"There are places where, unfortunately they don't clear them any time," Port Clinton resident Scott Harger said, adding he's been forced to walk in the street. "It's a fantastic idea."
Others said it's an example of government overstepping its bounds.
There are elderly people, and a lot of people are out of shape," said James Sutherland. "If you can't afford a snowblower, then it piles up."
Police said they're connecting people who have trouble clearing sidewalks, like the elderly and disabled, with civic groups that can help. They said government-owned properties will be held to the same standard as private properties.
***Watch Lorrie Taylor's story below to see what you could be liable for by not shoveling your sidewalks***
A snowy sidewalk, a hidden layer of ice; together they pose a perfect threat to passersby. The question is, do those passersby pose a threat to you if they fall in front of your home?
Independence attorney Sandy Kelly said homeowners cannot be held accountable in court by someone who slips on their property unless those same property owners were negligent in some way.
For example, if a damaged gutter created an icy patch that caused a person to fall and the homeowner failed to correct the dangerous situation, the homeowner would be liable for the injuries of another.
But if a peril, like an icy sidewalk is open and obvious, Kelly said a person who slips may not be able to recover damages for negligence.
Some municipalities require property owners to keep their sidewalks clear, however, Kelly said failing to do so does not equate to negligence. Violators could be fined under local law but they could not be sued for damages.