Fort Worth

Fort Worth police recommend revising charitable solicitation ordinance

Fort Worth police Chief Joel Fitzgerald.
Fort Worth police Chief Joel Fitzgerald. Star-Telegram archives

The City Council is considering changing the city’s ordinance to ban all solicitations, whether by charitable groups at intersections or panhandlers on sidewalks.

The recommendation that the city repeal the charitable solicitation ordinance — which allows groups with a permit to solicit at certain intersections for up to two days a year with certain restrictions — was made by the Fort Worth Police Department during a City Council work session Tuesday.

Sidewalk panhandling is already illegal.

The Police Department had been asked to update the council on the panhandling issue. Instead, police Capt. Robert Allredge recommended the city follow state law, which allows cities to ban any solicitation for charitable contributions, with the exception of city employee groups such as firefighters and police officers.

A broader discussion took place regarding panhandlers who approach others and ask for money.

Allredge said there was a 35 percent increase in panhandling calls and a 23 percent increase in arrests and citations in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period last year. From January through March, police received 1,018 calls with the greatest increase being calls from private property owners, he said.

Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said panhandling is a larger, social issue and involves people who are better served by social services, rather than the criminal justice system.

“Reducing the incidence of panhandling in this city requires broad social change,” Fitzgerald said. “I want to ensure that everyone understands that police alone cannot affect reductions in poverty and financial inequality, or eradicate public policies that all homelessness and unequal access to mental health and other necessary support services.”

Police have been using a three-pronged approach to panhandling, first handing out pamphlets to education individuals that panhandling is illegal. The pamphlet includes a list of where the panhandler can receive help. That is done before officers issue a citation or the person is arrested, he said.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Allredge said. “We don’t want to arrest everybody we come across panhandling. We do want them to get the services they need.”

Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said, “We have panhandlers who are very aggressive. We shouldn’t have people who are afraid to go to the local store because somebody who we know does not want to read a pamphlet, they’re not going to read a pamphlet, and are just looking to make money.”

The council will resume its discussion on the issue in August after a summer break. On Tuesday, some members indicated they were ready to cut off all charitable solicitations.

“I’m all for doing a ban completely, but if that cuts out the [Moslah Temple] Shriners, I don’t know if I want to be the person that cuts out the Shriners,” Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said.

Councilman Dennis Shingleton, too, said, “lumping [organizations] in the same genre is a little bit challenging for me.”

This includes information from Star-Telegram archives.