Aggressive panhandlers law introduced
SNOHOMISH — Residents’ concerns about aggressive panhandlers caught the City Council’s ear enough to take action last week.
The council adopted a rule against panhandlers aggressively badgering pedestrians and vehicles.
Police Chief John Flood spearheaded creating the ordinance based on his knowledge of the common panhandler profile, crime statistics and reports from his peers.
He said the ordinance he drafted acknowledges the difference between passive panhandlers who ask for change versus aggressive panhandlers who solicit overtly.
Passively holding up a sign is not illegal, and will be allowed by city code.
“It is a constitutional right to be in public, on sidewalks and street corners, passively holding up a sign to solicit,” city attorney Grant Weed said. “As long as they aren’t obstructing people on sidewalks, or vehicular traffic. Or being intimidating.”
“Passive panhandling is soliciting without threat or menace, often without any words exchanged at all-just a cup or a hand held out,”
Flood wrote in a memo: “Aggressive panhandling is soliciting coercively, with actual or implied threats, or menacing actions. If a panhandler uses physical force or extremely aggressive actions, the panhandling may constitute robbery.”
Flood’s report goes on to say that the police become interested in panhandlers if activity becomes violent.
Flood said there was an incident in March involving two panhandlers getting into a physical altercation over panhandling territories.
Residents and city officials alike had recently expressed concerns of panhandlers being in the road, specifically at the new roundabout construction area, which has caused drivers to report being distracted.
One group caught in the crossfire that violates the obstruction rules are local firefighters who stand on streets each year to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The firefighters ask people to “Fill the Boot” with money.
As for Fill the Boot, Fire District 4 can do it as long as the organization does not obstruct the right of way.
Flood plans to speak with the fire district about it.
The city had considered putting up signs encouraging people to give to charity instead of panhandlers, but that idea is currently shelved. The city may take up the signs at a later date. Marysville and Arlington have the signs up.
For the ordinance, Councilman Michael Rohrscheib made a motion to adopt it, which Councilman Dean Randall seconded. Councilwoman Lynn Schilaty said she sees the ordinance as a “two-way street” since it protects both citizens and aggressive panhandlers from each other.
“I think this ordinance supports the heart and soul of this community, which is this community cares about people,” Schilaty said. “We’re not trying to rid Snohomish of ‘the poor,’ but it’s just the exact opposite. There are many service organizations and resources in our community for them.”
Two people from the audience spoke on the matter.
Resident Micah Nehring supports the signage and originally brought the issue of aggressive panhandling to the council’s attention last month.
Council critic Morgan Davis disagrees with the signs. Davis said he didn’t want Snohomish to be known as a “city without pity like Marysville.”