New code to limit panhandling
The Village of Patchogue will hold a public hearing on Oct. 11 to discuss a new code to limit aggressive panhandling. The legislation, according to village attorney Brian Egan, is intended to protect people from threatening, intimidating or harassing behavior, while also keeping public places safe for all members of the community.
Mayor Paul Pontieri said the legislation was created in response to multiple complaints of aggressive panhandling within the last six months or so. “The safety of our residents and visitors is paramount. It’s why we have public safety officers and why the SCPD attends to Main Street,” he said.
But according to Egan, vagrancy is a difficult thing to control, being it brings up First Amendment issues. And though panhandling is not in itself illegal, Pontieri explained, it’s not that it’s done, but rather how it’s done. The legislation, he said, will be put in place to make addressing aggressive panhandling and soliciting people for money at ATMs enforceable.
“It’s legally allowed to ask for money, but when they continue to ask and step over the line while asking or a person feels threatened is when it becomes an issue,” he continued. “This is an issue that has become prevalent during the day more so than at night, but something we need to have under control, and [Suffolk County Police] and [village] public safety need the tools to manage it.”
In order to be enforced, the offender must solicit another in an aggressive manner, which has been defined as intentionally or recklessly causing physical contact, putting someone in the position of fear of bodily harm, or anything that might entice fear, such as following or blocking someone or using bad language. Also, it is prohibited to solicit someone using an ATM within a certain distance or any business with an ATM inside such as a bank. It is also prohibited to solicit someone in parking garages, bus shelters or at a meter.
The legislation, Egan explained, will be both complaint-driven and police and public safety enforced. The tickets will be returnable to the village court. If convicted, the person who committed the crime will be fined no less than $850 and no more than $2,500. If convicted a second time within 12 months, that person will be fined and could be imprisoned for no more than 15 days.
“We are confident in enforcing this law. It’s inspired by similar legislation in other cities in New York State that have been tested and upheld by the NY Court of Appeals,” he assured.
According to Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce executive director David Kennedy, the chamber supports the legislation and is happy the village is addressing the issue. “It has certainly been an issue. We came to the board after a situation in front of the Capital One Bank, where the bank manager had to confront some people,” he said. “People are being followed back to their cars and feel uncomfortable. I am very thankful that the village is looking to pass something to prevent some of the more aggressive panhandling. It’s wrong and will not be tolerated.”
SCPD Fifth Precinct commanding officer Bill Silva said the department has been made aware of the legislation and has been working with the village on it. “Any tool we can use is another tool in our bag. We are happy to have it; if the village passes it, we will be happy to enforce it,” he said.
After the hearing, the board will vote to move the legislation forward and if passed, the Suffolk County Police Department and Village Public Safety will be able to immediately enforce the law.
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