DALLAS (CBS11) – Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall sought to clear up any confusion about her department’s enforcement of the city’s anti-panhandling ordinance.
Hall told reporters Monday, “We are in no way stepping back from our responsibility.”
Earlier, she told the public safety committee that they’re having their officers continue targeting panhandlers in the streets or on sidewalks who ask drivers for money.
But the department is de-emphasizing another part the ordinance which targets panhandlers in special zones the city established, such as store parking lots and around ATMs in downtown, Uptown and Deep Ellum.
Chief Hall told council members, “We have to work with legal to figure out if those zones are actually enforceable.”
Chief Hall says for now, there are questions about these zones, because other cities with similar ordinances as Dallas have lost legal challenges after the courts have found the act of panhandling itself is not illegal, and protected by the First Amendment.
Council members told her they weren’t happy because they read about the change in the Dallas Morning News.
Councilman Philip Kingston told Hall, “I do think this is a major change in enforcement policy. The September 20 briefing did not include an immediate change in policy and there was not a warning in December there would be some change. I didn’t particularly appreciate that.”
Chief Hall responded by saying, “It is not our intention to disrespect this body or the council as a whole.”
Councilman Adam McGough, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said, “It’s not hard to get in touch with us. I don’t want to read about it in the paper, just let us know.”
The President of the Dallas Police Association, Mike Mata, says his members are still unclear about the department’s policy. “I think the more questions are those parking lots, those ATMs, those grocery store parking lots. Could you get an offense of criminal trespass Absolutely, but you’d have to have a complainant and the complainant would have to b the store owner.”
Chief Hall said the police will still prosecute aggressive panhandlers who threaten or assault people.
Charitable organizations are exempt from the panhandling ordinance, but they must register with the city.