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City: Police can arrest panhandlers

Aggressive panhandlers to be arrested on misdemeanor charge
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburnites can now expect stricter laws on panhandling and soliciting in the city. In a unanimous vote Monday night the Auburn City Council passed the Solicitation Ordinance and Aggressive Solicitation Ordinance. The Aggressive Solicitation Ordinance allows the Auburn Police Department to arrest and charge aggressive panhandlers with a misdemeanor offense if the person is causing “a reasonable fear of bodily harm,” said Councilman Kevin Hanley. Mayor Bill Kirby said aggressive panhandling hurts the city and needs to stop. “I think aggressive solicitation should be illegal no matter what,” Kirby said. “If somebody feels threatened and intimidated, the (panhandler) should be arrested. Even I have felt intimidated when people have come up and then followed me when I have walked away. I want those people arrested. That’s aggressive, it’s threatening.” Kirby said residents have complained about not feeling safe going into businesses because of threatening panhandlers. Councilman Kevin Hanley said some of the biggest problem areas are the SaveMart parking lot in Auburn Town Center and the parking lots at Foster’s Freeze, Rite Aid and Grocery Outlet on Grass Valley Highway. Chief Valerie Harris, of the Auburn Police Department, said in June 2010 the department had 95 contacts with people who were directly panhandling or were involved in related behaviors, some having to do with intoxication. Hanley said he believes the problem is even bigger, because many people might not be calling the police department to report intimidating panhandlers. Hanley said panhandlers are traveling to Auburn, partially because Roseville has a similar ordinance to reduce panhandling in its city. “A lot of the aggressive panhandlers have moved into the vacuum in Auburn,” Hanley said. “We tried to work with Placer County to try to do an ordinance at the same time, because we didn’t want to push this problem into the unincorporated areas, but they are going to sort of follow our lead on this.” Councilman Keith Nesbitt said aggressive panhandlers cause more than just public safety issues. “What Valerie didn’t say in her presentation last night was how much time the police department spends on kind of the same group of people that are within that ‘homeless panhandling, really don’t want any help cause I’m getting handouts’ type of people,” Nesbitt said. “She documented it for us a year ago and it was a significant amount of time. When you looked at it from a performance based standpoint, it’s taking a lot of our time.” Suzi deFosset, executive director of The Gathering Inn in Roseville, said she supports the city’s new ordinance. “I believe that the money that is used, that is gained during panhandling, the majority of that money is being used for alcohol and drugs, and it is keeping people from coming in and getting the help they need so they can move forward in their lives,” deFosset said. “There have been a couple gentlemen in Auburn who have passed away because of excessive drinking. It was directly related to that. That’s exactly where they got their money.” Kirby said the county tries to help panhandlers find the help they need by getting in touch with organizations such as The Gathering Inn, but it isn’t always successful. Kirby said it’s possible in the future Auburn could open a transient court, similar to the one in Roseville, which would allow panhandlers to potentially work off their offenses. Kirby’s said the city’s primary goal is to protect its citizens and the second is to get panhandlers the help they need. The Solicitation Ordinance regulates door-to-door sales, requiring businesses and organizations to have a permit before approaching residents’ homes. Hanley said businesses have to apply for permits at City Hall and must be able to produce a valid business license. An annual $22 fee is required for the permit. Non-profit groups would also have to apply for the permit, but wouldn’t have to pay the fee, Hanley said. “So we would know who is in the neighborhood, so that gives our police department and management staff valuable information they don’t have now,” Hanley said. Hanley said the city can’t regulate politicians or religious groups, and those with a permit would not be allowed to visit doors that have “No Solicitors” signs. Local chapters or clubs of the same nonprofit organizations could fill out the permit application as a group to reduce the paper burden on each segment, Hanley said. The person or group visiting homes must have their permit with them and be able to produce it if a resident asks to see it. If a permit is not produced, a resident can call the police department and report the activity, Hanley said. “So that’s a little extra protection,” Hanley said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com