Cedar Rapids Sets Aside ‘Aggressive’ Panhandling Ordinance

By Rick Smith and Forrest Saunders, The Gazette & KCRG-TV9

CEDAR RAPIDS — Panhandlers can breathe easier.

The City Council set aside a proposed new “aggressive” panhandling ordinance last night designed to stop pushy panhandlers and those who camp at high-traffic intersections with stop lights asking for help.

Instead, the council sent the measure back to thePublic Safety Committee with the general direction that any ordinance needed to be narrower in scope.

Council member Justin Shields, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said he favored the proposed ordinance as written and that the council and the police department have studied aggressive panhandling for more than a year.

However, council members Pat Shey and Ralph Russell said criminal laws such as assault, intoxication and trespass already take care of some of the problem without a panhandling ordinance.

Council member Scott Olson has pushed for the council to consider the new ordinance. Last night he said the move prompted a good discussion among council members, but that the city needs an ordinance, if narrower in focus, to address “professional panhandlers.”

Council member Kris Gulick said he was involved in two near crashes at busy intersections as cars stopped to give money to panhandlers on the side of the road.

“Somebody is going to get killed,” Gulick said.

The day that happens, the City Council will pass a panhandling ordinance to move panhandlers away from busy intersections such as Blairs Ferry Road and Interstate 380, he said.

Capt. Steve O’Konek said the police department supports the proposed ordinance because of citizen complaints about panhandlers at busy intersections and those who hang around banks and ATMs and in parking ramps. People have been robbed at banks and ATMs when they decline to help someone asking for money, he said.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit panhandling in an aggressive manner; on buses or at bus stops or within 50 feet of an ATM or financial institution; on private property if the owner has asked not be solicited; and at controlled intersections, median strips, controlled access highways or roadway shoulders.

Fundraising efforts such as the fire department’s effort at city intersections would be allowed by permit.

O’Konek said the ordinance would give police officers a greater ability to interact with panhandlers and try to steer them to shelters and other services. Now, a panhandler at a dangerous intersection can ignore police and police can’t do anything about it, he said.

Council member Monica Vernon said she might support a panhandling ordinance focused on traffic safety.

She and council member Susie Weinacht said they wanted the city to look at an ordinance in Bettendorf, which requires panhandlers who camp along streets to register with the city. The ordinance allows the city to do a background check and to offer services to those registering.

Council member Ann Poe agreed with two citizens who spoke during the public hearing

Residents Adam Wright and Robin Kash suggested talking to officials who serve the poor and homeless for their advice on a panhandling ordinance.

l Comments: (319) 398-8312; rick.smith@sourcemedia.net

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