Councilman's aggressive panhandling request falls flat

SAPD Chief McManus says city can't 'arrest away the problem'

SAN ANTONIO – A request by District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher to have city staff look at ways to strengthen the city’s ordinance outlawing aggressive panhandling will not be passed onto the full City Council.

That’s after a presentation by San Antonio police Chief William McManus Tuesday in front of the council’s Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services Committee.

During similar discussions in the past, McManus has said that enforcement is not the solution to problems involving the homeless. He re-emphasized his stance Tuesday.

“Is it worth the time and the resources to try and arrest every panhandler you see on the street? Again, candidly, the answer is ‘no,’” McManus said.

San Antonio already bans panhandling within 50 feet of certain high-traffic areas, such as crosswalks and parking garages.

“What’s happening is customers going into small businesses have actually been stopped. People have scared them away,” Gallagher said. “And the businesses are calling us and saying ‘What are we supposed to do about this?’”

Panhandling is a Class C misdemeanor that comes with a maximum $500 fine.

"You can’t make an indigent person pay a fine. There is no jail time associated with a Class C misdemeanor,” McManus said. “We have this cycle of arrest, back out on the street, arrest, back out on the street.”

In 2015, the city created the Integrated Mobile Partners Action Care Team, which was tasked with reaching out to the homeless to connect them with medical, mental health and substance abuse services.

San Antonio officers are handing out fewer citations for panhandling than they were two years ago.  McManus said that's because of the city's effort to connect the homeless with services from places like Haven for Hope.

“I think we already have all the tools we need. We just need to make sure we connect people with those resources,” said Shirley Gonzales, District 5 councilwoman.

The committee agreed Tuesday that a service-based solution will take time.

“We still have a long way to go. We really do,” Gallagher said.

“Irritation is one thing. Simply not liking to see something at an intersection when you pass it is one thing versus a safety issue. We address the safety issues,” McManus said.

The city will continue to assess its approach and the City Council is expected to get an update in January.

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