Rochester Looking to Curb Aggressive Panhandling

Created: 07/07/2014 10:30 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Residents complaining about panhandlers, some even saying they fear for their safety, has Rochester city leaders looking into a few new regulations.


In the heart of downtown Rochester, in a place that's named after it's ambiance, a young boy played for donations Monday night.


"He's so sweet and I can tell he needs help and it just breaks my heart,” said Rochester Resident, Sheri Rose.


It's panhandlers like him in the Peace Plaza, that many people don't have a problem with, but the Rochester City Council has been getting several complaints from residents being intimidated by panhandlers.


"They weren’t just standing, they got very aggressive,” said Rose.


At Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, the council looked at different regulations to help curb aggressive panhandlers. "These folks have a First Amendment right under our constitution to ask for money, they don't have a First Amendment right to intimidate you or cause you to fear for concern out of your safety,” said Rochester City Attorney, Terry Adkins.


It's a balancing act the council is trying to find, and based on other cities across the country, Rochester is considering "Prohibitions against touching, verbal accosting, verbal aggression, as well as what I call the captive audience scenario,” said Adkins. This would make it illegal for panhandlers to hang out within 15 feet of places like an ATM or an outdoor cafe.


The city is also looking at prohibiting anyone from setting up shop at traffic medians and islands. But these new ordinances, if passed, will need enforcement. "Everybody’s interpretation of what consists of aggressive, intimidating panhandling is something different,” said Rochester Police Chief, Roger Peterson.


He says from the stand point of law enforcement, what consists of a violation, "We need to be really clear on those definitions,” said Peterson.


To ensure those who are simply expressing their first amendment right are allowed to do so. The council will have a public hearing before voting on these proposed ordinances during their July 21st meeting.

Photo: ABC 6 News