City council mulls panhandling

MEDFORD — The Medford City Council has not ruled out getting tougher on panhandlers, but on Thursday council members seemed more interested in educating the public about how to deal with requests for money.

Police Chief Randy Schoen delivered an overview of the issue during a council study session and shared some messages used to counteract panhandling in other communities.

An example presented by Schoen was an advertisement depicting a hand with the words, "Please help. Don't give," written across it.

The Police Chief suggested using signs or fliers around town to deliver a similar message.

"If someone wants to donate," Schoen said, "it would be much better served to give it to the Salvation Army or St. Vincent's than directly into the hands of someone. There are so many organizations where money can be donated to help."

The council also heard Schoen's proposal for restricting panhandling, which includes prohibiting solicitation at intersections controlled by traffic lights, on private property where permission has not been granted and requiring that panhandlers stay at least 50 feet from an ATM or financial institution.

Passive solicitation is not illegal, and is not a high priority, Schoen said.

"Our purpose is to protect the public against abusive solicitation without violating a constitutional right," Schoen said.

The majority of council members agreed that something should be done, but most said they preferred education rather than legislation.

City Councilman John Statler said he believed that the problems associated with abusive solicitation are covered in other laws.

"I'm concerned that there's a need for education and that the city should be involved," Statler said. "I'm not sure we need a law because it's all been covered."

Schoen said new ordinances would make the laws more clear and that the current laws are not "as specific as the things I have suggested."

Councilwoman Jill Stout works at the Liberty Bank branch in the Winco parking lot adjacent to Barnett Road. She said incidents involving aggressive panhandling have been reported in the parking lot, as well as at Fred Meyer and in the Medford Center.

"It has been a problem for our customers," Stout said.

While an education effort was the popular choice, the council and Schoen were unsure of what such an effort would involve and how much it would cost. But they seemed to agree it was worth pursuing.

Reach intern Bob Albrecht at 776-8791 or e-mail

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