Business owners on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace say aggressive begging is bad for their bottom lines. Police say they support stronger city laws, but new rules being proposed will not happen, at least for now.
Residents and merchants told a city council sub-committee that aggressive pan-handling is scaring business away from downtown Burlington. "We were walking in front of the Flynn (Theatre) and a gentleman came up to my girlfriend about this close," said one Burlington resident. "Whistled in her face, and was like, 'Give me some money' and when I said, 'No' he said, 'I'm going to kill you."
Police said the city's current regulations regarding those asking for charity contains several loopholes and endorsed stronger regulations up for consideration by the city's Public Safety Committee. Chief Mike Schirling says handling just a few problem individuals is costing the city millions. In a city of 40,000, he said "150 or less people cause 90% of the problems in our inner-city district."
The Church Street Marketplace and city attorney created the draft ordinance. Based on laws across the country - it would disallow pan-handling in groups, create penalties for rude and unrelenting solicitation, and limit acceptable hours. The proposal would require pan-handlers to remain 20' away from entryways, bus stops, and A.T.M.s. Pan-handlers would also be required to move to a new location every hour much like street musicians, and would be barred from soliciting while sitting or lying down.
However, a motion to send the ordinance to the full city council failed Tuesday night. "I think enforcement's going to be difficult if not impossible," said County Prosecutor Bram Kranichfeld. He, and fellow city councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, did not support the motion. Both voiced concern about restricting free speech and redundancy with disorderly conduct regulations.
Those we spoke with on Church St. said they've had unpleasant experiences but most don't believe more restrictions would help. Homeless outreach organizations declined our requests for on-camera interviews.
This isn't the first time the city has considered stronger measures to crack down on aggressive pan-handling. It also is unlikely to be the last time, as the proposal will probably re-appear once Burlington's new city council is seated in April.
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