[Hpn] ALERT: Denver homeless crackdown OKed in part by City Council FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Thu, 25 May 2000 16:32:56 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Denver Rocky Mountain News / May 24, 2000


     By Kevin Flynn
     Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

A DENVER CITY COUNCIL committee on Wednesday held up part of Mayor
Wellington Webb's crackdown on beggars and transients, fearing it could
become a tool for harassing poor and homeless people.

     The public safety committee wants further study on the proposal to ban
sitting or sleeping on sidewalks downtown from 7 a.m. to midnight, saying
it may be overreaching and cause more problems than it solves.

     "I will oppose this in its present form if it goes on to the council,"
said Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie. "It's just too broad for us to claim
that it's to protect the congested areas of downtown."

     "My concern is using these things as harassment techniques," said
Councilwoman Cathy Reynolds. "You think we're congested from 7 a.m. to
midnight? I understand LoDo is a problem, but I dare you to find anyone at
14th and Stout at midnight.

     "Plus the people who are sleeping on our sidewalks aren't likely to
have the $75 or $100 to pay a fine. I don't want to have to build another
jail just for them."

     Councilwoman Ramona Martinez said the law could simply end up moving
the problem to other areas, such as South Broadway or East Colfax Avenue.

     The committee gave initial approval to two other parts of the overall
package aimed at improving downtown safety and cleanliness, including
restrictions on panhandling and public fighting.

      Committee members got the administration to drop a portion of its
proposed anti-panhandling law that would have made it illegal to lie or
mislead when asking for a handout.

     That would include such things as sitting in a wheelchair when the
panhandler isn't handicapped, or holding a sign saying you need gas money
when it's really for liquor, or wearing military jackets when not a veteran.

     The committee gave initial approval, however, to the broader
panhandling restrictions. They would try to curb so-called aggressive
panhandling by criminalizing those who stalk, verbally abuse or physically
go after their targets.

     Panhandling would be illegal within 20 feet of an automated teller
machine or a pay phone. Also prohibited would be soliciting from people
standing in lines, such as movie crowds, who can't get away.

     Reynolds questioned the prohibition on all panhandling after dark. It
would be illegal from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before

     That means a commuter without bus fare couldn't ask a stranger for a
quarter in the midst of a blizzard at 6 p.m. Jan. 7, but could do so at the
same hour in bright sunshine July 7.

     Police Chief Gerry Whitman said the public fighting ban would solve a
problem officers have when breaking up fights, whether between transients
or yuppie bar-hoppers. Current law requires a complaining witness, and
often those in fights don't want to file a complaint. The change would
allow officers to file the complaint.

     The two pieces that were approved by the committee could be up for
initial council review in two weeks.


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