Friday, March 4, 2011

A chronic problem

A few City Council members forwarded this email to me that they received from a citizen earlier this week, asking me to respond to the sender.  I've edited it slightly for length and to remove some personal identifying information:

I have a concern that has grown considerable over this past year.  The problem is pan-handlers on North 27th Street. I am up and down North 27th Street numerous times a day and there are pan-handlers through out the day and into the night. The pan-handlers camp out at the intersections of North 27th & Ticonderoga; North 27th & Northview; North 27th & Kensington; and Superior & Industrial Ave.    
My concern is that it is not only uncomfortable being stopped at any one of these intersections for a red light it is also potentially dangerous.I have witnessed not only confrontations between the pan-handlers and drivers but also between pan-handlers fighting over their "turf". 
I have called the police non-emergency number once to report this problem when I was confronted by a pan-handler.  I was trying to mind my own business waiting for the light to change when the pan-handler approached my vehicle.  When I would not roll down my window the pan-handler took his card board sign which read some thing to the effect of "homeless please help God bless" and flipped the sign over which said "your s--- stinks too". A few days later I was at McDonalds and saw this man with one of his fellow pan-handlers counting their haul for the day which was $135 cash all tax free. 
Is pan-handling legal, I don't notice a problem with it downtown or at other Wal-Mart locations.  All of these intersections have concrete medians with sign post, why can't a sign be posted that states no loitering or something to that affect?
I share his annoyance.  Panhandlers camp at the shopping center I most frequently patronize, and what particularly annoys me is the knowledge (in some cases) that they are neither homeless nor incapable of earning a living, and that they sometimes have (shall we say) a colorful past.  Here's my response.  Note the information in boldface.

Panhandling is not illegal in Lincoln, although it is regulated by Municipal Ordinances, which were crafted to comply with case decisions by U.S. Federal Courts, including the Supreme Court.  Among Lincoln's restrictions are these: it is unlawful under Municipal Code 9.20.080 to panhandle from the occupants of vehicles on public streets or alleys; and under Municipal Code 10.30.080 it is illegal for a person in the public right of way to solicit contributions.   
The semi-professional panhandlers are often quite aware of this, and they usually will position themselves on private roadways just inside the property line and off the City right of way.  They occasionally stray onto the public right of way, and we make lots of arrests for this violation. As an example, one individual who often panhandles near 27th and Ticonderoga has been arrested and jailed by seven different LPD officers on 41 separate occasions since January 1, 2010 for soliciting contributions in the public right of way. 
While it is not illegal to panhandle on private property and private roadways, it could still constitute the offense of trespassing.  Since these are places that invite public access, the law requires actual notice to the trespasser.  A well-worded sign could work, but a direct message is even better. Thus, the owner/manager has to be willing to communicate with the panhandler, to the effect of "Get off my property."  Shopping centers are sometimes reluctant to do this, for a couple of reasons:  they don't want the hassle of having to talk to or deliver a letter to the panhandler; they don't want to offend their customers who support panhandlers; they do not want to post signs and appear to be insensitive to the itinerant and homeless; they don't want to run the risk of being summoned to court to testify; or some combination of the above.  Thus, you will find panhandlers almost nationwide at the entrance/exit roads of certain big box retail centers and shopping malls.  
The places we have the most panhandlers are those where the private roads come right up to the property line, with little penetration into the parcel by a public street.  At the retail complex at 87th and Highway 2, for example, we have less of this because 87th Street remains a public street for about 270 ft. into the complex north of Highway 2. 
As you noted, this is apparently fairly lucrative to some of the panhandlers. The prospect of the occasional arrest, a night in jail, a $50 fine with credit for time already served is not always a deterrent, as the example above would demonstrate.  There is certainly no lack of effort on our part.
I think the only way to more effectively ameliorate this is to convince the management at these locations to get tough with no trespassing policies, and be willing to do what it takes to ensure we can enforce that: signs, personal communication, hand delivery of letters.  We can help (we would be happy to accompany a manager, or example, to deliver a verbal or written notice to get off and stay off the property), but the owner or manager of the property has to be willing to post signs or to make these direct communications.  We haven't had much luck convincing them that this would be a good idea. 
Regards,  
       Tom Casady
       Chief of Police
      

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

This person you refer to getting cited 41 times never pays a penny in fines. The judge sentences him to a fine that never has been over $100 for this offense and he sits out the fine for a day or two in jail. Meanwhile he is getting three squares. This man has a home and is capable of working a real job. One day while taking him to jail he told me he worked at Kawasaki a few years ago but it just wasn't for him. I asked him what a good day panhandling brings and he told me that a typical day is around $100.00. A good day would be $150 or more. People don't realize what a scam this is.
Then there are some that are just looking to get a quick couple bucks so they can go buy booze.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the penalties need to ramp up with the number of convictions, like shoplifting.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to retort as I am one of the seven. The problem lies at getting cooperation from the big box stores and the city. A big box store at 27th and Superior was willing to post a 'no soliciting' sign and they attached it to the median sign at 27th and Ticonderoga (it didn't block any views or the content of the sign itself). The big box store was later informed by someone from the city's office they could not affix signs to city property (the median sign). The sign was taken down and when they tried replacing it along the curb on their property; it was removed (most likely the solicitors) and never replaced as it would have to be properly secured with concrete and such to prevent further thefts. I guess they felt it was more hassle than it was worth and it never returned. The retail businesses at 27th and Knox took the extra steps to secure their sign and after issuing a few tickets for trespassing, as the solicitors camped under the sign, the intersection was cleared of the problem. In my opinion, since the solicitors usually camp on the median at 27th and Ticonderoga, I was in favor of posting the sign there. Unfortunately somebody from the city offices felt differently and thus you can see the fruits of their decision.

Former Deputy D said...

The individuals and location that this person speaks of is exactly as stated. I used to buy a cup of Java at McD's and offer it, or a can of pop, spare change, etc. Then I more closely observed them smoking all day and talking on their cell phones and I know neither one of these is cheap. I give to The Mission, but that's where I draw the line. I know Pastor Tom can always use the help.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:00
I suppose it is easy to blame the City, however, knowing just enough to be dangerous I can tell you that it is against federal regulations to affix unapproved items to traffic devices (signs/signals/etc). Not to mention, if the sign is knocked over - as many are - the City is then responsible for replacing the privately owned sign that was attached. I can hardly blame the "City Offices" for saying no.

Anonymous said...

I always seized Mr. 41's money and sign as evidence of the crime for which he was arrested.

Tom Casady said...

8:44-

He owns his home, purchased in August, 2007.

9:23-

Remember, though, it costs money to keep someone in jail, and the longer they are there, the more likely the taxpayers will be responsible for medical, dental, and optical care. When I was the Sheriff, I had a staff of employees whose primary job was to shuttle prisoners to places like the optician for the low-bid eyeglasses or hospital for the STD clinic. This all comes at public expense. Keep your fingers crossed that your prisoner doesn't have a myocardial infarction or stroke while in your custody.

10:00-

You've just nailed the problem with signs:

1. You'd need to erect one at every single entrance, further back on the median or roadside so as not to be on the public way. At a place like the N. 27th complex Wesfield/Gateway or Southpointe, that's a lot of signs.

2. Like other signs, they would occasionally be mowed down on icy days, vandalized, or removed by thieves. Maintenance, repair, and replacement would be a continuing headache.

3. I sign prohibiting panhandlers and solicitors, in order to be directly worded enough to suit prosecutors, would be more likely to affront that subset of your patrons who are offended by your corporate cold-heartedness towards the Plight of the Downtrodden.

4. You still leave the panhandler with the argument at trial "I didn't see the sign, I can't afford glasses, the sign was turned sideways by the wind, etc. etc. etc."

The better way to handle this is the simple one: a representative of the business or property owner walks up to the panhandler, and says, "Leave our property immediately. Do not return. We will consider you a trespasser if you do so." Even better, give the panhandler a letter to that effect after making this statement, and keep a notation on a copy of the time and date. LPD would happily accompany any owner/manager who asked, and we would even make a police report to document the event for future reference. Easy, simple, doesn't need maintenance, and the panhandler can't argue that the font was too small.

Anonymous said...

I wish that everyone practiced my own method of dealing with panhandlers - don't give them a penny, ever. I mean never, ever, not under any circumstances. The City Mission, sure, but not the panhandlers.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

Sounds like a tax free way to make money if you need it.

Anonymous said...

Chief-How about people just stop giving them money?

256

Steve said...

While I don't condone their activities, I can't see why anyone is terribly concerned about them. Ignore them if you so choose. Give them something if you are inclined to do so. I've never seen any of the panhandlers do anything one might consider threatening. If they did, they could certainly be arrested, or cited for that, regardless of whether it was city property or private property. If you are subjected to threatening behavior, call the polic

I'd rather not see them as I enter, or leave, a shopping center; but, on the other hand, they don't really bother me. Some of them may truly be in need of a handout, but I'm generally too skeptical to accept them as they present themselves. I just ignore them and go on my way. What's the big deal?

Anonymous said...

After reading your post from last friday about how busy your officers are, I read this article and wondered, Do you really want me bothering the police about pan handlers?

Be honest Chief!

Anonymous said...

I never give money to a panhandler. Instead I carry a Snicker bar or a small package of Chips Ahoy cookies to give them. I will make an exception if one of these guys has a truly great spiel.

One of the most interesting signs I ever saw was in the hands of a guy with a lot of prison tats holding a sign that read " The Warden gave me $100 to buy a bus ticket. I spent it on booze and hookers. Now I need money to buy
penicillin." I gave him a Star Tran bus pass and directions to the free clinic.

Gun Nut

Tom Casady said...

8:15-

That depends. If you are the owner, I would much rather you called us to help you deliver a ban-and-bar letter to a constant panhandler on your property once, rather than to take four calls from citizens about him, and have another couple hundred drive by wondering why WE aren't doing our job, when in fact YOU haven't done yours.

12:47-

You're right: if they weren't making money, they wouldn't be there. Give your alms to the People's City Mission, Gathering Place, The Salvation Army, or any other organization that helps the poor, mentally ill, homeless, addicted. Don't give it directly to panhandlers who in many cases are using it to fuel their addiction or other self-destructive behavior, and in other cases are pulling an outright scam.

Problem is, there are just too many good citizens who will not heed that advice, or who simply don't believe it. Thus, the panhandlers persist because their are enough naive donors to make it worth their time and effort.

Anonymous said...

The posts are a great primer on how to panhandle in Lincoln. It just might be the answer for a post-retirement job...

Anonymous said...

Chief-Any luck getting the media reporting on this? Maybe someone that reads your blog should do some "in-depth" reporting on the subject. Like an interview of your 41-time offender. That would be good. Might open the eyes of a few do-gooders that are happy to hand over their cash to these folks.

256

Anonymous said...

Chief,

Off-topic, but timely:

When I read this, I reflexively thought of this. I bet they lifted a customer info, vendor info, or something like that during the earlier burglary, so they knew where to hit for big swag. This almost stinks like organized crime, possibly gang-related. The 8-ball agrees.

Anonymous said...

I the big scheme of things- If this man's biggest complaint is that he feels uncomfortable because a man is asking for handouts- I would say that either he lives in a bubble where there is no real crime, has an inflated sense of importance, or the police have done a great job shielding him from real crime- leaving nothing better for him to focus on. You should offer him to do a ride along, night shift- Southwest- A beat, or Center-B beat.

Ben said...

I've enjoyed reading about this topic, but was wondering how often someone comes along who really has a need? I'm assuming the percentage is pretty low. Is it safe to assume that 100% of the people pan handling are not ligit?

J said...

You guys need to watch the southpark episode about pan handlers. "Change?"

Anonymous said...

Chief,

B1-019970 BROKE IN FRONT DOOR/PULLED GUNS & KICKED VICTIMS AND TOOK ITEMS CASH, PAYCHECK, ID, 2 MEXICAN IDS, DEBIT CARD, CELL PHONE, IPHONE

Hmm, they could have just strong-armed somebody for that swag in a parking lot or on the street. The real question is this:

How much dope did they steal?

Tom Casady said...

12:46-

Good thinking. In cases like this, you start looking for the thread that might connect diverse victims who are located in varying areas of town.

Ben-

It's a mix, I suspect. Some are, some aren't. For some, it's pretty much a scam.

11:20-

Hmmmm. Not reflected in the report. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I doubt you see many, if any, professional panhandlers at either the City Mission or the MTK with the genuinely down-and-out and mentally-ill street people.

The pros probably drive their later-model vehicles to Ideal or Trader Joe's at the end of a good panhandling shift, then take those groceries home to their nice digs - unless they clean off their carefully-applied stage make-up, then go eat at Dish.

Anonymous said...

I always used to give a little to these people because I felt bad for them. Last week sitting at the stop light at Superior and Industrial, watched a car (nicer than mine) pull in to the parking lot on the SE corner, two men got out, took signs out of the back seat, and walked across the street. The same guy that I had given money to a few days earlier. I won't be doing that again!