AURORA | An Aurora City Council committee on Thursday gave initial approval to a proposed ordinance that would outlaw window peeping in the city.
The city currently doesn’t have a specific code banning intentional peeping on its books, according to city documents. If caught peering into a private residence, voyeurs can only technically be prosecuted for trespassing in municipal court.
The new ordinance would carry the same maximum penalty as the trespassing charge — up to one year in jail and a $2,650 fine. But it would specify the crime committed.
“If you’re peeping, you’re not just trespassing, you’re actually watching someone in a state of undress, which is a whole different level of trespassing,” said At-large Councilwoman Allison Hiltz. “It deserves a distinction.”
Hiltz said distinguishing the charge in city code could help stiffen sentences against repeat voyeurs.
“If you’re not actually charged with what you were doing, that just causes questions,” she said of the current charges enforceable against peepers. “Multiple repeat offenses would maybe result in a sentence toward the higher-end, rather than the lower-end for a first-time offender.”
Municipal judges would ultimately decide those sentences.
If passed, the new charge could only be levied against people who are proven to be looking into windows with the intent to spy on others — not passerby who peer through the windows of a house on the market to get a better glimpse at the molding, according to Hiltz.
“The real crux of it is the intent,” she said.
Deciding when to press the charge will eventually be up to responding police officers, and the exact circumstances of certain cases, according to Nancy Rodgers, deputy city attorney.
“I think it depends on the officer, what the facts end up being, and the officer’s discretion in deciding if they have the elements,” she said. “Was it done with the intent of spying on somebody?”
Hiltz requested the ordinance be drafted after a resident in the city’s Pheasant Run neighborhood complained about window peeping in the area.
The female resident did not want to be identified, according to Hiltz.
But the resident wanted a specific peeping tag for serial peeping offenders.
“Intentional window peeping can be pretty traumatic and can have long-term implications for people who have been voyeuered upon,” Hiltz said.
A person can currently be prosecuted for window peeping — or invasion of privacy for sexual gratification — at the state level, according to city attorneys.
Such charges are prosecuted outside of city court.
The new city ordinance will allow attorneys to charge local offenders who commit crimes that don’t rise to the state threshold for invasion of privacy, according to Rodgers.
The measure also includes language to cover peeping into private or public bathrooms, locker rooms, tanning booths and shower stalls.
Several other Colorado municipalities have peeping codes on their books, including Denver, Breckenridge, Loveland and others, according to city documents.
Aurora officials used Lakewood’s peeping ordinance as an outline.
Hiltz asked the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless about the measure due to concerns it could be used to prosecute homeless people looking through windows as they walk through alleyways.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless did not oppose the measure, Hiltz said.
The full city council will now discuss the proposed measure at an upcoming study session.