Haltom City council doesn’t object to using stereotypes, moves forward with panhandling ordinance

After a plea from organizer Ryan Murphy of Unite South Haltom to reconsider a proposed panhandling ordinance at the Sept. 28 regular session, council member Scott Garrett stated that “Stereotypes come about from truth a lot of times. I mean, that is why it is a stereotype. It is true a lot of times about a group of people. There are exceptions.”

No one on the council objected to using stereotypes to enforce policy, and the ordinance passed its first reading unanimously.

Murphy was responding to a presentation Keith Lane, chief of the Haltom City Police Department, gave to the council that provided a 2002 report stating the typical profile of a panhandler is that of an “unemployed, unmarried male in his 30s or 40s, with substance abuse problems, few family ties, a high school education, and laborer’s skills.”

The demographics were compiled from studies published from 1994 to 2000. One study from the Evanston, Illinois, Police Department scoffed at its city formerly proposed maximum “$500!” fine for panhandling, which drew nationwide embarrassment from talkshow host Jay Leno. The proposed Haltom City ordinance endorsed by Chief Lane also has a fine of up to $500.

In response to the ridicule, Evanston reduced panhandling using other methods after concluding “a legalistic approach was not practicable.” The Evanston report documents how the city enlisted support organizations to redirect donations by talking directly with givers and posting information signs at local businesses. Before implementation of the city’s program of asking that donations be redirected and providing more police visibility, police officers conducted voluntary interviews with panhandlers to identify the subset who were aggressive.

After implementation of the program, 55 percent of the city’s panhandlers had stopped, 63 percent of the aggressive panhandlers moved elsewhere, and 13.8 percent of aggressive panhandlers hadn’t changed their behavior. Local businesses were surveyed and three-quarters agreed that they were at least satisfied with the program and that aggressive panhandling had been reduced “significantly in the downtown area.”

When suggested during the public forum that the city could take alternative steps like enforcement of the existing laws against blocking traffic, harassment or trespassing, council member Trae Fowler said, “We looked at a lot of those things.” Chief Lane or the council did not offer detail on what, if any, steps have been tried.

The ordiance should be up for its final reading at the next regular session Oct. 12.

The full video of the Haltom City regular sessions is available at https://vimeo.com/140789913.

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