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Protection of Public Health, Safety, and Morals

The primary duty of a municipal corporation is the protection of health, safety, and morals of its population.  In order to exercise the entrusted duty, municipal corporations use police power.

A municipality passes ordinances to implement its duties.  General welfare of the public must be the ultimate aim of a municipal ordinance.  An ordinance passed by a municipal corporation should not conflict with a state law.  Generally, a municipality passes two types of ordinances: ordinance under the power of local self government and ordinance under police power.  An ordinance created under the power of local self-government relates solely to the government and administration of the internal affairs of the municipality.  A police-power ordinances aims:

  • public health;
  • safety; or
  • morals[i].


Health or sanitary powers exercised by a municipal corporation can be expressly granted, or can be implied.  Municipalities enact laws to protect a community from communicable diseases; bad water; nuisances injurious to health; and noxious odors and gases.  Ordinances are issued for the purpose of abating nuisances which are injurious to health; the location and regulation of markets; hospitals; slaughter houses; and cemeteries.  Health ordinances are mainly issued for the prevention of the introduction of contagious and infectious diseases and their dissemination in the community[ii].

Municipalities have the power to make reasonable provisions for the safety of persons and property within their jurisdictions.  The power includes suppression of violent crime and vindication of its victims.  For example, restrictions on launching and beaching of motorized watercraft, regulating door-to-door canvassing and solicitation, requirements of adult staffing; requirements of a security guard, regulating video surveillance at cybercafes, regulating gang violence, regulating payphones, and prohibiting lobstering in inner harbors.  A municipality can regulate under its police power, any activity that works as a threat to public harm[iii].

In order to protect public morals, a municipality has the power to restrict or prohibit the exercise of a trade.  A municipality has the authority to prescribe reasonable rules, regulations, and conditions for conducting business.  Many states control sexually oriented businesses affecting public health and morals.  In order to be a valid exercise of police power, an ordinance must bear a reasonable relationship to public interest sought to be protected and the means adopted must be reasonable[iv].  Usually, a municipality exercises its police power to further the convenience of public.  A municipality issues ordinance to advance aesthetic values, encourage property maintenance, and control noise levels. A municipality is entitled to furnish municipal off-street parking facilities in its exercise of the municipal police power for public convenience[v].

Additionally, a municipality has the authority to enact and enforce ordinances designed to prevent fires.  The power includes making regulation on keeping inflammable material or other fire hazards in certain premises.  An ordinance regulating the mode of storage of petroleum products is within the delegated powers and constitutional province of a municipal corporation[vi].

[i] Mendenhall v. City of Akron, 117 Ohio St. 3d 33, 37 (Ohio 2008).

[ii] State v. Robertson, 45 La. Ann. 954, 956-957 (La. 1893).

[iii] Phillips v. Town of Oak Grove, 333 Ark. 183, 191 (Ark. 1998).

[iv] Crocker v. Finley, 99 Ill. 2d 444, 456 (Ill. 1984).

[v] Gate City Garage, Inc. v. Jacksonville, 66 So. 2d 653, 655 (Fla. 1953).

[vi] Pierce Oil Corp. v. Hope, 248 U.S. 498, 500 (U.S. 1919).

Inside Protection of Public Health, Safety, and Morals