Police Chief Rick Van Leuven delivered the good news to the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday evening: A tough new panhandling law seems to be working.
But, he said, that doesn’t mean the begging has altogether stopped.
“The panhandling has moved to other locations,” Van Leuven said. “And aggressive panhandling (in those locations) has increased.”
One spot that has seen a spike in panhandling is the city of Millwood, just north across Trent Avenue, where one man reportedly knocked on doors of homes to ask to borrow a barbecue grill. Shoppers have also been approached by those asking for handouts at businesses in the area.
The Spokane Valley ordinance, which went into effect Aug. 25, was tempered by a two-week warning and education period. That move, Van Leuven said, had the desired effect of getting panhandlers to move on without arrests.
“That two-week education was one of the best things we’ve done,” Van Leuven said. “We got compliance and gave warnings to a little over 50 people.”
Only one citation has been issued since the law went into effect, he said, and that offender had been warned previously by police.
Van Leuven said most of the panhandlers from this area have gotten wise to the new law, which makes it a misdemeanor to ask for money on busy roads – or use a sign to do so -- and for anyone to step into traffic to accept money from drivers.
“We’re approaching this as a safety issue,” the chief said, adding that the panhandlers that were often seen at busy intersections like Argonne and the freeway interchange or at Pines and Sprague “are now gone.”
The maximum punishment is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
Now that the warnings have been delivered to the locals, Van Leuven says it’s a more typical scenario now that panhandlers come from other areas and simply aren’t aware of the law.
“An officer stopped a couple of transients from the west side,” the chief said. “They didn’t want to break the law, and they were more than happy to move on.”
Law enforcement is also working with the state Department of Transportation and Washington State Patrol to help clear brush near freeway interchanges, particularly at Sullivan Road, where transients often set up camp to consume the alcohol they purchase from money from handouts.
While Millwood officials have said they don’t have any plans for drafting a panhandling ordinance of their own at this time, the new law – which had been in development for years by city attorneys – has been a success story in Spokane Valley.
“I believe that the ordinance has been extremely effective,” Van Leuven said. “We’ve had better-than-expected compliance.”
Council Member Rose Dempsey said that the results have been “astonishing.”
“You done a good job,” she told the chief.