Morrisville to Regulate Begging, Panhandling

Morrisville may soon require all panhandlers to have a reflective vest and town-issued permit after receiving a number of complaints about those asking for money on the side of the road.

The Town Council will consider Tuesday, July 14, approving a new ordinance that makes it more difficult for people to ask for spare change. The ordinance, which has enthusiastic support from the Town Council, would go into effect by the end of July.

The new law strengthens an existing law the town passed in 2006 in response to complaints of “aggressive begging.”

It’s not illegal to beg for change, but people can violate local or state laws by doing so aggressively or in a manner that impedes vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

If Morrisville passes its new ordinance, panhandlers will have to go the police station to get a permit that must be renewed every three months. They must have the permit and a reflective vest with them at all times.

They’ll join Cary, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in having rules to regulate panhandling. Morrisville’s rules would be less stringent than Cary’s, which allows the town to arrest panhandlers for repeat violations.

Morrisville won’t go as far as arresting panhandlers.

“Would you handcuff them, arrest them, put them in a car?” councilman Michael Schlink asked during a recent meeting.

“No, they’ll be cited,” said Morrisville Police Chief Ira Jones, because the violation is civil, not criminal.

The citation is a $25 fine plus court fees, which in Wake County are $150 for civil district court. Offenders will also be required to appear in court instead of just mailing in the money like with a traffic ticket.

If Morrisville passes the new ordinance, anyone who violates it also will be banned from panhandling in town for a year.

Since December, the Morrisville Police Department has responded to 53 calls regarding panhandlers. The town’s administrative offices also fielded more than 120 complaints about panhandling in April and May, officials said.

“I’m getting more complaints about it,” councilman Steve Rao said at a recent meeting, advocating for the new rule. “The sooner the better.”

People also have complained about indecent exposure, public urination, animal safety concerns and littering, although town documents don’t indicate that any panhandler has ever been charged with such allegations.

Police say the rule is intended to increase safety both for panhandlers and motorists. They also say it’s intended to regulate what officials say is considered an elaborate system with potential for violence.

“Our investigations have found that many times these panhandlers are driven here by a handler who charges each panhandler a daily fee for a ride to and from a pick-up location from a neighboring city,” the executive summary of the ordinance says.

“The police department has responded to ‘turf wars’ among panhandlers,” the summary continues. “This is when one or more panhandler forces another panhandler from a particular intersection through intimidation or threat of violence.”

Cary response

Cary responded to concerns years ago by making it illegal to beg on any sidewalk, median, road or other public right-of-way. Morrisville’s new ordinance also will ban begging in a street’s median.

“It really boils down to a safety issue,” Cary Police Maj. Tracy Jernigan said. “When somebody is standing in one of those narrow medians, it becomes a safety issue both for them and for the motoring public.”

The only exemption in Cary, Jernigan said, is for people asking for money to support a non-profit – like Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmastime or school groups.

Cary police mostly get complaints near Morrisville, Jernigan said, because the borders can be confusing, and panhandlers accidentally come into the wrong town.

According to Morrisville officials, the spots that get the most complaints are intersections at N.C. 54 and Cary Parkway; near Park West Village; and at Davis Drive and Morrisville-Carpenter Road, near the Grace Park development. At both intersections, one side is in Cary and the other side is in Morrisville.

Jernigan said first-time offenders in Cary get warnings, but those who frequently run afoul of the police can be arrested.

“Mainly it’s just an education thing,” Jernigan said. “Off the top of my head, I don’t remember the last time we arrested somebody for it.”

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