Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Aggressive Solicitation Part 1

My colleagues Ralph Remington and Paul Ostrow have introduced subject matter of an ordinance to further criminalize panhandling in the City of Minneapolis. They are seeking to put "reasonable time, place and manner restrictions" on verbal solicitations for money. More specifically, the ordinance would criminalize asking someone for money within 10 feet of crosswalks, convenience and liquor stores or within 50 feet of entrances and exits to a park or sporting arena. It would be illegal to panhandle in groups of two or more, and at night. See the recent story in the Star Tribune here, and the text of the ordinance amendments here.

I will find it extremely difficult to support such a measure, for the following reasons: 1) the disruptive behaviors that folks are using as reasons for this new ordinance are already against the law, by the current aggressive solicitation ordinance; 2) this is not an effective use of our resources, we need to target our criminal justice resources to investigate and convict serious criminals and utilize other researched and proven avenues to find longer term solutions for livability issues.

Criminalizing poverty, homelessness, chemical dependency and mental illness has not made these problems go away and never will.

The rest of this post will deal with the first point, about the existing Aggressive Solicitation ordinance. To be clear about what we're talking about, here is a portion of that ordinance, 385.60:

"It shall be unlawful in a public place to engage in an act of solicitation when the person being solicited is present at any of the following locations:

a. In a restroom.
b. At a bus stop or shelter or light rail stop or shelter.
c. At a crosswalk.
d. In any public transportation vehicle or public transportation facility.
e. In a vehicle which is parked or stopped on a public street or alley.
f. In a sidewalk cafe.
g. In a line waiting to be admitted to a commercial or government establishment.
h. Within twenty (20) feet in any direction from an automatic teller machine or entrance to a bank, other financial institution, or check cashing business.

(2) It shall be unlawful in a public place to engage in an act of solicitation in a manner that incorporates any of the following methods:

a. Intentionally touching or causing physical contact with the solicited person without that person's consent.
b. Intentionally blocking the path of the solicited person, or the entrance to any building or vehicle.
c. Following behind, ahead or alongside a person who walks away from the solicitor after being solicited, with the intent to intimidate or continue solicitation.
d. Using obscene, profane, or abusive language or gestures toward the solicited person.
e. Approaching the solicited person in a manner that:
1. Is intended to or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear imminent bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon property in the person's possession; or
2. Is intended to or is likely to intimidate a reasonable person into responding affirmatively to the solicitation.
f. Solicitation while under the influence of alcohol or drugs."


The behaviors of the person who asked CMs Remington and Colvin Roy and Senator Higgins were already against the law. 1) He asked for money at a sidewalk cafe and 2) he used profanity.

In fact, I think the supporters of the proposed Remington/Ostrow ordinance amendments would be hard-pressed to find an example of a "panhandler" who was clearly out of line who was not violating one of the many provisions of the existing ordinance. I can agree that "people shouldn't be subjected to of aggressive behavior." However, the sort of intimidation and "aggressive behavior" in the article and that others are talking about is already prohibited by law. Maybe we need to do a better job of enforcing the law and informing people about it.

We should be clear that the new amendments are not going after "aggressive" behaviors. Those are covered by the existing law. They seek to criminalize asking for fifty cents for a phone call after 6:00pm in December. They also seek to make downtown virtually a verbal solicitation-free zone.

If some people do not want to be panhandled, it is up to us to simply say "no." We should not rely on our overburdened police force, who have more important things to spend their time on, to protect us from having to say "no."

And if someone is behaving in an intimidating manner, using abusive language, etc, there is already a recourse for us: the existing Aggressive Solicitation ordinance. If you believe a panhandler has crossed the line and is soliciting aggressively, call the police - dial 911.

More on the other reasons I will find it difficult to support the Remington/Ostrow ordinance to come.


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