SAPD to Propose Anti-Panhandling Ordinance

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus presents and update presentation to the Public Safety Committee. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus presents and update presentation on the SAPD Strategic Plan to the Public Safety Committee. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Stop begging. Or, if you’re on the other side of the equation, stop handing out spare change or more.

That’s the message San Antonio Police Chief William McManus wants to send through an ordinance that will be considered by the City Council’s Public Safety Committee in November. The ordinance would make it illegal to give money to panhandlers.

“It would prohibit anyone from giving money to people on the street,” McManus said Wednesday to Committee members. “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 and alcohol.”

The new rule would mirror the current panhandling ordinance that makes it illegal to solicit money or things of value within 50 feet of certain areas, including banks, ATMs, parking meters/pay stations, outdoor dining areas, bus stops, stop lights and intersections, and more. It’s basically illegal everywhere “the public is considered vulnerable, or where solicitation would interfere with the flow of traffic.”

Permits are available by application to gain very limited, short-term access to roadways in order to collect money for charities, McManus said after District 9 Councilman Joe Krier asked about firefighters and other groups he has seen at intersections – essentially panhandling.

“If they don’t have a permit, they’re breaking the law,” McManus said.

Each City Council member on the committee, chaired by District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran, said he or she had observed panhandling firsthand or had received numerous complaints from constituents.

“It’s a supply and demand issue,” Viagran said, adding that combining this ordinance to public awareness and outreach efforts should shift the conversation back to the root of quality of life issues identified by the SAPD Strategic Plan Initiative for 2014. Those include panhandling, homelessness, prostitution, graffiti, burglary of vehicles, and open-air drug markets. According to McManus, panhandling arrests are up 34 percent this fiscal year.

Complaints have echoed throughout the Police Department, McManus said.

“People will run red lights to get away from the panhandlers,” he said. And there have been more aggressive solicitors that “spit on your windshield if you don’t give money.”

The committee, which includes District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales, District 7 Councilmember Mari Aguirre-Rodriguez, District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier, and District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher, seemed unanimous in its support of such an ordinance.

“Trying to (solve problems) the other way around … going after the people that are enabling (crimes), seems like a good approach,” Gonzales said.

“It’s probably one of the best things that we can do to deal with panhandlers,” McManus said, who said he and his team have been working on the ordinance for a few months, though it’s been on his mind for years. “I haven’t researched other cities’ (ordinance efficacy) … but I believe it will work here.”

Recognizing that the root of many of these problems is mental illness, McManus said that the SAPD has been working with the District Attorney’s office and Health and Human Services departments to develop avenues for repeat offenders to either enter rehabilitation facilities voluntarily or by court order.

After three or more citations, the District Attorney has the ability to increase a “frequent flyer’s” offense from a Class C misdemeanor – essentially a $500 traffic ticket  – to a Class B misdemeanor – a $2,000 fine and up to six months in jail. This way the “judge is able to commit them to forced treatment,” McManus said.

At the end of the day, however, these are not problems you can “arrest away,” he continued, updating the council on the other quality of life issues. The Strategic Plan has a full committee that convened in December 2013 that included representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, Haven for Hope, Probation Offices, and various other city and county courts.

Subcommittees have also formed and meet once a month to focus on one of the five core issues (panhandling, graffiti, prostitution, open-air drug markets, and burglary of vehicles).

Click here to download McManus’ Quality of Life Strategic Plan Update presented to the Public Safety Committee today.

*Featured/top image: San Antonio Police Chief William McManus presents and updates presentation on the SAPD Strategic Plan to the Public Safety Committee. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

This article was originally published on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014.

Related Stories:

City Planning for San Antonio Growth Bomb

Alamo Plaza Conversation Continues

County Cutting Tax Rate as Property Values Climb

City’s Proposed Budget: No Tax Increase, No Frills

San Pedro Creek: San Antonio’s Next Linear Park

45 thoughts on “SAPD to Propose Anti-Panhandling Ordinance

  1. While it goes against my own personal rule to ever hand over cash to panhandlers, having my right to decide taken away seems unconstitutional and another excuse for sapd to give out bogus citations and harass its citizens under the disguise of “safety”

  2. Panhandlers have been around forever and it should be a citizen’s decision whether to help. The Chief now wants to make it a crime and involve the police. Helping a person out on his or her luck would be criminalizing a behavior. He is overstepping.

  3. Let’s me just say what they’re thinking, but in this age of political correctness have to bite their tongues…people don’t like seeing homeless people. It makes them uncomfortable. Also, this is total nonsense. Perhaps it’s a radical and unpopular idea to help those who are “down on their luck”, regardless of how they got there, but there was a man alive a little over 2,000 years ago who lived a pretty radical and unpopular life in the eyes of the general public. I guess instead of money I’ll just have to give them food and water now. {Matt. 25: 35-40}

  4. It’s an interesting crackdown, many cities don’t know what to tell costumed characters who ask for tips because they have a constitutional right to dress up and ask for money. This is a workaround or loophole but does it qualify as a gimmick? I wonder how this affects future downtown street performers and their performances?

  5. I agree with making it illegal as the more that is given the longer they will stay on the streets panhandling. I am tired of watching aggressive panhandlers that walk between cars and put themselves in dangerous situations. I don’t want to witness someone getting run over. There are plenty of venues for people to donate to help the needy.

  6. I’ll give my money to whomever I see fit. That includes families raising money to pay for hospital bills and funerals. I see students asking for donations for their various clubs. They all could be considered pan handlers. I think this ordinance crosses the line.

  7. I myself am sick of being confronted at every available moment ~ while I’m getting gas, just walking into or out of a store, at every intersection. It makes running errands a mission to keep your head down and push on to the finish line.
    If these people put that much effort into a job, they may be good employees, not to mention PRODUCTIVE!

  8. I wonder how this fits in with the Haven for Hope shelter downtown? I mean wasn’t that supposed to “fix” SA’s homeless problem? I wanna know more about where and how $100 million didn’t fix the homeless problem…

    Also, aren’t/shouldn’t the SAPD a little busy doing other “real” police work?

  9. how do you handle a rude panhandler that walks over to you while pumping gas and does not take ” no cash”

  10. Really irritating to have someone panhandle money from you only to see them with a pack of smokes in their pocket or booze in their bag. Their should be an ordinance against panhandlers because they are a public nuisance much like public drunks. Citizens should reserve the right to give money to who they want without worry of being cited because the panhandlers are the real problem.

  11. Sometimes I will give money to homeless people who really look like they need it. I really don’t care if they use the money for drugs or booze. Alot of these people have mental problems and that is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.

  12. I think that for all the $$$ SAPD gets paid (some of the highest paid officers in the country)…just deciding to now ‘ticket’ average citizens for acting like human beings is the wrong approach and there highly paid collective minds should be able to find another solution, or get to work on enforcing the ordinance that is already in place. Ticket or arrest the panhandlers more rigorously if necessary…you guys get paid well, do your jobs better if you think that it is out of hand.

  13. …if you know it goes to drugs, perhaps you should follow all these “druggies’, find out who they are buying from and foil the crime! smh..

  14. Does this include the firefighters who stand in the middle of the middle of the street with their boots?

    Absolutely ridiculous. How about addressing the problem of poverty?

    • We are doing it for charity lady. I can’t even understand why you would drag the fire dept. Into this idiotic, ignorant, and downright stupid comment. Use your brain. That’s free!

  15. I see some positive here. If “panhandlers” see they can no longer ask for money on the streets then just maybe it might funnel them back into the services where they might get more help than cash.

  16. I don’t see how this committee chaired by Councilwoman Viagran can decide how and where I donate my money or food. The part that really disturbs me is how they are saying we can’t give gifts other than cash as well. Some people are literally starving out there, and if I want to give them their first meal of the day, I’m going to do it. I am with a political action committee that is dedicated to finding better leadership in district three where Councilwoman Viagran currently holds office, and I am urging you all not to stand by while she wages her war on charity. Please like the Dthree Pac on Facebook and help us stop this ridiculous endeavor.

  17. NO!! NO! This criminalizing of everything to do with being homeless has to stop. This is just the first step.
    Panhandlers in parking lots, on corners, can be annoying. But it shouldn’t be a crime.

  18. I rebuffed a guy once and he was so cool about it I told him, “Here! Take this, find a bottle, find a spot and try and come up with a future game plan…” But ususally I say, “Dude!! I`m not pulling out my wallet in front of a stranger in the middle of a parking lot!!” I think the chief is right. The bartender in me knows that a lot of requests, can turn into a de-facto demand real quick. Especially if the person being asked is small frail or not used to saying no or @#$ you! P.S. It should only be a crime for the person asking, not the person giving as they could feel pressured into handing money over out of fear.

  19. Ouch! Wham! Zingo! On the firefighter boot comment. They used to collect at a Highway 16 intersection near Bandera. I told my spouse, “This is not safe at all!!” A couple of weeks later I saw the end result of a car being rear ended at 50 m.p.h. It was obvious that someone had stopped and taken too long to get money out and paid dearly for it…

  20. Fire fighters obtain permits to ask for donations on street corners. Homeless people do not. I’m not sure some of you understand what it is like for people living in neighborhoods that are over saturated with homeless people harassing them for money, knocking on their doors in the evening, and sitting in their yards without their permission. I’m glad SAPD is stepping up. Inner-city residents have been complaining long enough about this problem. Good job, McManus.

  21. If it’s terrible for a panhandler to buy drugs and alcohol and proposed to criminalize donors of spare change, why don’t we criminalize the businesses that sell it to them and manufacture them? Treat the source of poverty, not the poor and those who choose to assist them financially. Raise the minimum wage to $15 for starters.

  22. This says people run red lights to get away from panhandlers. Really?!? San Antonio is one of the worst cities when it comes to the criminalization of homelessness. So now we’re going to criminalize the humanitarians, the givers, the kind people. Lets focus on the root issue!

  23. Is this like arresting the john as well as the hooker? It’s still not quite the same. I have mixed feelings about this. Aggressive panhandling is an issue but I am not comfortable giving SAPD more power to decide that I might be a criminal over an act of charity, should I choose to engage in it. Criminalizing this doesn’t feel right.

  24. This is complicated, stop and frisk was a key to NYPDs target of minor offenses and having police spread out, which can catch serious crimes. Comparatively speaking this is no where near as bad as stop and frisk, which targeted minorities and punished legal offenses. For example it’s legal in NY to carry marijuana in your pocket, but not out in the open. Opening your pockets and being searched makes you guilty of possession, one of several crimes that minorities are at a disadvantage legally. While we do not have that problem here, and this may be a safer solution, we want to be objective.

  25. Outrageous. Either standing at intersections asking for money is dangerous or it’s not, and that most certainly does include firefighters or any other entity seeking charity donations–they can still bring traffic to an unexpected halt, they can still cause traffic concerns. I’ve seen it a hundred times when we’re supposed to “fill the boot” at 281 and Bitters. This is not about the dangers posed by soliciting individuals interacting with traffic, then–it’s about homeless people and those who are down and out. Perhaps it’s about leaders who are concerned with what image visitors will take away from our city–and perhaps they should be more worried about our city being noted as one totally without compassion. Time after time, you read of tourists who are impressed by our friendliness, our helpfulness to others. Pass this–and watch our image change for the worse.

  26. I don’t like this proposal at all. It doesn’t feel right. Sometimes we give, other times no. Is it really that big of a problem? I think not.

  27. I dont understand one thing. Panhandling is different than helping someone out. As in if I wanted to give a homeless guy a pizza. I can’t do that that’s bs. Come on what would Jesus do? This chief is taking away our rights as a human being. We should be able to do whatever we want to help a homeless person. That still should be our decision but instead you are enforcing people who give to the homeless as an act of charity fines/ and putting them in jail. To me you have no heart. And you know what you need to go to church. That’s all I gotta say

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *