NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – The New Rochelle City Council is going after aggressive panhandlers that sometimes populate city sidewalks and streets, heckling passersby.
The council has approved legislation that will crack down on panhandling in New Rochelle by prohibiting it in certain areas and by banning intimidation tactics that some panhandlers utilize to bully bystanders.
According to city officials, the legislation “is adopted in order to protect persons from threatening, intimidating or harassing behavior, to keep public places safe and attractive for use by all members of the community and to maintain and preserve public places where all of the community can interact in a peaceful matter.”
In New Rochelle, solicitation primarily takes place near the Metro-North station, parking facilities that many commuters utilize, banks and check-cashing businesses.
Under the new law, it is now illegal to touch a solicited person without consent, to pester someone entering a commercial establishment, block the path of someone with the intent of requesting money, follow someone who refuses to offer up a donation or to panhandle in a group of two or more.
Violators will be punished by a fine of no more than $250 or by imprisonment for no more than 15 days. In an effort to protect First Amendment rights, city officials crafted their version of the law based on others that already have been challenged, unsuccessfully in court, according to Mayor Noam Bramson.
“From a legal perspective, restrictions should be carefully tailored to address genuine public needs and to protect First Amendment rights,” he said. “For this reason, the new law is modeled on legislation that has already withstood challenge in the courts.”
The mayor noted that, while it’s generous to help those in need throughout the community, it often is less helpful to acquiesce to panhandlers.
“Giving money to aggressive panhandlers is almost always the least effective way to provide assistance,” he said. “It is much better to support programs that provide access to permanent housing and other vital social services, like the homelessness prevention initiative recently launched by the city and HOPE Community Services.”
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