2013-11-21 / Front Page

Panhandling Ordinance Voted Down

By Tom Shevlin

City Council members last week voted down a proposal to develop a new ordinance dealing with "aggressive panhandling."

In a 4-3 vote, which was preceded by a round of healthy debate, councilors opted to take no action, with some instead suggesting that a more robust police presence might be a more prudent step toward addressing what all agreed is a troubling problem.

Councilman Michael T. Farley had proposed the measure, which was also supported by Councilors Jeanne-Marie Napolitano and Kathryn E. Leonard. Had it been approved, the resolution would have instructed the city attorney to develop an ordinance to allow the city to issue citations to solicitors who harass or intimidate passersby.

But the majority of the council disagreed with Farley's approach.

Second Ward Councilor Justin S. McLaughlin said that he believes more police – not more ordinances – are needed around town.

"Passing an ordinance isn't going to put more police on the street," McLaughlin said.

Mayor Henry F. Winthrop said that it should be up to the police to propose any ordinances pertaining to panhandling.

"Show me the proof" that the police can't address aggressive panhandling, Winthrop said. "This issue is one not for us to be jumping on because of a perceived problem."

But not all agreed.

"I think it's just gotten to a point where it's a bit out of hand," Napolitano said. "I've never seen it like this before."

She continued, "There's no reason why people who are coming to Newport should be afraid to walk into a restaurant or a store."

Leonard agreed.

However, First Ward Councilor Marco Camacho said that he hadn't seen any data that warranted the type of ordinance being proposed.

"It seems like… we already have laws in place that protect individuals from being accosted by someone else, by being grabbed by someone else, by being cornered by someone else," he said.

As a civil libertarian, Camacho added that he was wary of infringing on personal liberties, including free speech.

Camacho went on to say that he would like for the police chief – as chief law enforcement officer – to come to the council with some recommended changes if there is a gap in the law.

That suggestion was echoed by Winthrop. "If the police chief isn't asking for it, then why are we giving him tools that he doesn't need," he said.

According to Police Chief Gary Silva, while the police currently respond to panhandling complaints, they rarely go so far as making an arrest.

"It's a balance," he said.

When asked whether the city has the tools to crack down on aggressive panhandling, Silva said, "I think there's probably an opportunity to meet with the solicitor to see if there are any redundancies or contradictions" in the ordinance.

Sometimes just the definition of a word, he said, can reduce the effectiveness of an ordinance. "Those are the issues that our officers have to deal with on a daily basis," Silva added.

With that, the council voted 4-3 against the measure. No timetable was set for Silva or the city solicitor's office to come back to the council with any potential changes to the ordinances already governing panhandling; however, there is likely to be some follow-up in the coming months.

Return to top