On June 13, a new ordinance went into effect in the unincorporated County that aims to protect the safety and welfare of the public by imposing reasonable restrictions on aggressive and intrusive solicitation or panhandling.
“The ordinance was necessary because under the current laws and County Code, we did not have enough tools to sufficiently address the problems that aggressive and intrusive solicitation creates for our residents and businesses,” said Captain Matt Morgan, Sheriff’s Department. “While developing the law, careful consideration was taken to respect the constitutional rights of free speech for all citizens.”
The Sheriff and Department of Community Development reviewed similar ordinances from other jurisdictions and a team comprised of representatives from the Departments of Human Assistance, Sheriff, County Counsel, Community Development, and the District Attorney’s Office, crafted the ordinance and met with businesses. Property and business owners indicated that concentrations of panhandlers at key commercial nodes have a detrimental impact on the business climate.
The types of solicitation addressed in the County’s new law:
Aggressive solicitation – The proposed ordinance prohibits people from behaving or acting in a way that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm to themselves or others, or damage to or loss of property, or otherwise be intimidated into donating money. These behaviors include touching the person, following them, and/or using violent gestures.
Certain locations – The proposed ordinance prohibits people from soliciting in the following locations, where based on the unique circumstances, the person being solicited is especially vulnerable or would reasonably feel vulnerable to a crime:
Banks and ATMs
Driveways of Shopping Centers, Retail and Business Establishments
Public Transportation Vehicles and Stops and
Violations of the proposed ordinance will be punishable as an infraction. Following two infractions, a third infraction within a six month period will result in a misdemeanor offense. The ordinance does not prohibit the lawful vending of goods and services or soliciting for charitable purposes.
Outreach materials, developed by stakeholders, involved departments and the Department of Human Assistance will be used by the Sheriff and other departments to inform businesses and residents about the ordinance and the benefits of giving to non-profit organizations rather than to panhandlers. Information will also be distributed to panhandlers about the law and where to get resources.
If a panhandler meets the existing criteria regulated by the ordinance, for example, they are being aggressive or are in or impeding traffic, residents can report the issue to the non-emergency Sheriff number at 916-874-5115.
Instances of chronic panhandlers that do not meet the ordinance criteria can be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Sheriff website, at http://www.sacsheriff.com/Pages/Services/Tips.aspx. Emails and tips will be forwarded to the Sheriff transient enforcement detail for further investigation.
Note: In December 2014 the County settled a
lawsuit regarding the ordinance that resulted in the County’s agreement to do
additional outreach and referral services, as well as delay the effective date.