Police Fine Family For Picking Wild Berries In A Park

Police Brutality


How many times have you seen a wild berry growing and thought about picking it? Many of you may have actually had a few. After all, raspberries and the like grow wild all over much of the United States. It’d be a shame to pass up a good snack, right?

Greg Visscher says he has been picking berries with his family for years wherever they find them growing wild.

But last month he was at a local park when he and his family were confronted by police officers and cited with a $50 ticket that accuses them of “destroying/interfering with plants to wit: berries. Without a permit on park property.”

Does it make sense to say that picking berries from a wild plant is the same as “destroying” or “interfering with” the plants at the park?

Picking berries doesn’t harm plants whatsoever. The family could not have been doing anything more natural.

Visscher tells Reason.com that he has been picking raspberries in Wheaton Regional Park for a long time, but there had never been cops around until this time.

Once there were, Visscher explains “an officer approached him and issued him the aforementioned $50 citation. Two more officers soon appeared.”

Visscher says that’s when the swarm of cops told him he would need to obtain a “permit” for “harvesting” berries.

But guess what: there’s no such permit in existence in the county!

Lt. Rick Pelicano of the park police, pointed Baylen Linnekin of Reason to the relevant rules, which supposedly relate to a county prohibition on  “destroying or interfering in any way with any plants” on public property.

“Charges under this section are infrequent,” Pelicano said. “Researching the last year we found three incidents that were cited related to this. Two resulted in a citation [while] one was a written warning.”

“There is no sign anywhere saying that berries cannot be harvested,” Visscher told Linnekin. “To my knowledge, there is nothing in the park that even highlights this.”

Linnekin says that no such signage in the park was visible anywhere. No staff at the park knew of any such signage either. Reason writes:

According to my reading of Maryland law, any such prohibition must be posted conspicuously. State code requires parks to “post the regulations outside each park headquarters building,” among other notice requirements. It would be a violation of due process requirements, in my view, for the county to ticket anyone without first posting such notice.

Regardless of the outcome of Visscher’s case, the story stretches far beyond Maryland. Foraging has grown in popularity in recent years. But so too have efforts to limit the practice.

Visscher’s ticket for picking berries is hardly an outlier. In 2013, “an old man barely making it on Social Security” was ticketed $75 for picking dandelion greens in a Chicago-area park. The man, John Taris, had picked the greens to make a salad.

New York City cracked down on foraging in Central Park in 2011 amid concerns the park couldn’t sustain the growing number of people hauling off ginger, mushrooms, and even fish. That may make sense.

“It’s not difficult to distinguish between sustainable foraging, where a person like Greg Visscher harvests berries, nuts, fruits, mushrooms, seaweed, or some other renewable resource for their personal consumption, and foraging that involves real destruction of public property,” Linnekin told the Daily Caller‘s Guy Bentley. “Ban the latter.”

What do you think? Are you with the cops on this one, or is there a natural right to pick wild fruit if you aren’t actually destroying anything?

(Article by Jackson Marcian; Reagan Ali and M. David)


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