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Nudity is Not a Crime

(Ed. — A complaint to the Parks Dept. about nudity at Denny Blaine Park brought this response, which we print here in case other shoreline areas are experiencing nudity in this warmer weather.)

We are aware of the situation at Denny Blaine Park. In the state of Washington, the 2003 law (RCW 9A.88.010) provides that being nude in public per se is not illegal. Behavior comprises indecent exposure if one “intentionally makes any open and obscene exposure of his or her person or the person of another knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm.” In the case of affront or alarm, the person affronted or alarmed can call the police. The police then decide whether to issue a citation or make an arrest.

The state law provides further that “indecent exposure is a gross misdemeanor on the first offense if the person exposes himself or herself to a person under the age of fourteen years.

Here is an excerpt from a 2008 Seattle Police blog posting on the subject:

In order for the police to make an arrest, we must have witnesses currently in the public place where the nudity is occurring who must make a complaint. These witnesses must be willing to appear in court. Also, in order to prosecute, the burden is on the government to prove that the offender was knowingly aware that their conduct created alarm and offense of others. There are, of course, incidents involving nudity in which the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or is having severe mental problems and the police can take appropriate action.

Historically, it has been difficult in Seattle to prosecute cases of public nudity. The position of the police department is to take a report upon receiving a complaint, identify the individual involved and forward the complaint to the City Attorney.

In 2008, the Board of Park Commissioners considered a draft rule that would have prohibited nudity in Seattle parks. Upon learning that the state law on nudity supersedes any City action, the Board adopted a motion asking that Parks and Recreation not adopt the rule.

We are sorry not to be able to respond to you with a solid solution, and hope you will continue to enjoy other parks along Lake Washington.

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