San Antonio Police Chief William McManus wants drivers to stop giving to panhandlers.
The city’s top law enforcement official presented an update on SAPD’s Quality of Life Strategic Plan (view the presentation slideshow here) to the San Antonio City Council Public Safety Committee yesterday.
He stated his intention to present an ordinance to the committee at its November meeting that would ban the public from handing out spare change, cash, food or other items to the seemingly ubiquitous beggars located at traffic stops around town.
“It would prohibit anyone from giving money to people of the street,” he told the Committee, according to The Rivard Report. “If it’s a crime to panhandle, it should be a crime to give to panhandlers... there are plenty of ways to donate besides giving on the street. That money typically goes to drugs are alcohol.”
The City’s current aggressive solicitation ordinance prohibits people from soliciting money or other items of value within 50 feet of public areas such as stop lights, traffic intersections, outdoor dining areas, banks, among other specified locations. Charitable organizations can apply for permits that would allow limited access to intersections to raise funds for their cause.
During the presentation, McManus indicated that panhandling arrests increased 34 percent this fiscal year. Panhandling is classified as a Class C Misdemeanor and can result in a $500 fine. However, the offense is upgraded to a Class B Misdemeanor for those with three or more citations, resulting in a $2000 fine and up to six months in jail. Acknowledging that many panhandlers suffer from mental illness, McManus stated that his department has been working with the District Attorney’s office and Health and Human Services departments to get repeat offenders into rehabilitation.
If McManus’ proposed ordinance is eventually passed by City Council, what some consider a charitable act will become a criminal act as well and will be classified as a Class C Misdemeanor.
Several City Council members indicated that discouraging the public from supporting panhandlers is the approach to take for what McManus considers a public safety issue.
“People will run red lights to get away from the panhandlers,” he said.
McManus’ presentation on SAPD’s Strategic Plan touched on several other public safety priorities, including prostitution, graffiti, narcotics and vehicle break-ins.
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