Minneapolis toughens panhandling ordinance

by McKenna Ewen

George Robertson laid carpet for 30 years until he injured his knee. His increased drinking started a downward spiral, which brought him to panhandle at Interstate 94 and 25th Avenue South, near the West Bank campus.

The Minneapolis City Council approved tighter restrictions on a panhandling ordinance Friday, limiting the areas on campus where people are legally allowed to ask for money.

The changed ordinance will no longer allow aggressive solicitation 10 feet from crosswalks and 80 feet from ATMs. Panhandlers can only approach people during daylight hours and must be alone.

Robertson said the tightened ordinance will have a negative effect on panhandlers.

“They’re gonna kill a lot of us,” Robertson said. “They’ve got money in their pockets; we’ve got to beg.”

“It is going to make the poor poorer,” he said.

Robertson said he is aware that people have aggressively panhandled in the area.

“We get after them and tell them, ‘don’t (mess) it up for the rest of us,’ ” he said.

University Police reported just four campus-area panhandling offenses since 2005.

Steve Johnson, deputy chief of University Police, said those numbers do not necessarily reflect the actual frequency of aggressive solicitation, since only reported cases are included.

An aggressive panhandler approached Vance Fredrickson, a University alumnus, on Oak Street Southeast and Washington Avenue Southeast outside Chipotle in 2005.

When the panhandler, Richard Andre Tanner, asked Fredrickson for money, Fredrickson said he didn’t have any.

Tanner started swearing at him and continued to demand money from others along the street, Fredrickson said.

Then, Tanner entered Stub and Herbs bar, got kicked out and took a swing at the manager, according to the police report.

Fredrickson said the new ordinance would definitely be helpful in similar cases.

“There’s a lot of panhandling going on at campus and a lot of it is very aggressive,” he said.

Unless they actually do something bad or invasive, most people just brush it off, he said.

Tanner was charged with disorderly conduct and giving a false name.

The city attorney’s office prosecuted seven cases in the second precinct, which includes the campus area, in the last two years, Assistant City Attorney Tim Richards said.

“It is very much an under-reported crime,” Richards said. “The numbers are a direct result of a lack of reporting.”

Richards said the city is working to educate residents on what to do when approached by aggressive panhandlers. He added that the best solution is to report cases to 911.

The city council approved the ordinance 9-3. Second Ward Councilman Cam Gordon voted against the ordinance.

Gordon said most complaints regarding aggressive panhandling are already illegal.

“The criminal justice system cannot effectively deal with these problems and we need to do more,” Gordon said.

It would be a better use of city resources to add enforcement, increase community awareness, reach out to panhandlers and target specific problem areas, he said.

This ordinance will put more pressure on the attorney’s office and law enforcement officials to selectively enforce and prosecute specific types of people, he said.

Tenth Ward Councilman Ralph Remington, who authored the ordinance, said homelessness and panhandling are two separate issues.

“(The ordinance) is not addressing a person or a type of socioeconomic status, this is about a behavior,” Remington said.