What panhandlers are, aren’t allowed to do
Panhandling is a First Amendment right, but must be conducted within certain parameters
For several months, a man has frequently panhandled a stone’s throw from The Daily Courier’s Prescott Valley location.
Every time he shows up, he parks his car near the office, takes out a red plastic gas can and a cardboard sign that says “Out gas // Please help // God bless,” and stands at a stop sign across the street from a neighboring gas station.
As people stop at the three-way intersection, he waves at them, says a few kind words if a conversation is started with any drivers wishing to engage, and accepts whatever is given to him.
“You meet a lot of really nice people,” he said.
The strategy never changes, only the location (he has been seen doing the same thing in other parts of Prescott Valley and in Prescott).
Whether or not he is being entirely truthful about his current situation and how he actually intends to use the money handed to him, nothing that he is doing is illegal.
“Panhandling, begging and asking for money is a first amendment privilege,” said Dave Fuller with the Prescott Police Department.
This was made clear by a federal judge’s ruling in 2013 stating that Arizona’s Loitering to Beg and Panhandle law was unconstitutional. The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona against the city of Flagstaff, which was using the Arizona Revised Statute to arrest people who were peacefully begging in public spaces. Since then, law enforcement throughout the country no longer arrests people simply for panhandling.
“The bottom line is, unless they’re breaking the law, there’s really not an awful lot we can do about it,” Fuller said. “We just have to be very careful about not violating somebody’s rights.”
Where it crosses the line into a legal matter in Prescott is when a panhandler is being aggressive to others, on private property without an owner’s permission, obstructing a public right-of-way, blocking an entrance or exit to a business, or being within 15 feet of an entrance or exit of a bank or ATM. In such cases, a panhandler can be cited for a misdemeanor.
“An example is continuing to solicit for money after being told no,” Fuller said. “That would move into our aggressive situation.” The same rules more or less apply in Prescott Valley, said Jason Kaufman with the Prescott Valley Police Department.
“The Prescott Valley Police Department does not have regular contact with panhandlers or the homeless unless they are camping on town property (which has happened in the past) or harassing people in town,” Kaufman said.