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Anchorage police to enforce panhandling law

By Kirsten Swann 9:35 PM October 1, 2013

Department announces it will "focus citation efforts," officers hesitant to fine offenders

ANCHORAGE – Panhandling is targeted by a number of municipal ordinances, which prohibit stepping into the roadway to solicit donations as well as passing money through vehicle windows to panhandlers on the side of the road. Police said it’s a matter of public safety: Especially in the winter, officers said panhandling is hazardous for both drivers and pedestrians alike.

But Lt. Gerry Gilliam, who oversees the Anchorage Police Department’s Community Action Policing team, said the department has never issued many citations in relation to the law, which has been on the books for nearly ten years.

“Anecdotally, we have a few,” Gilliam said. “We have, in the past, stopped individuals who have collected money in the roadway, as well as drivers.”

He said many Anchorage residents still aren’t aware of the laws, though, and officers would often issue warnings rather than citations for violating the longstanding ordinances.

In 2011, the department partnered with several other local agencies to launch “Change for the Better,” a public relations campaign encouraging motorists to donate to Anchorage charities and non-profits rather than street corner panhandlers. In connection with that campaign, the police department announced it would begin distributing informational cards to people caught breaking the law, and eventually begin issuing citations to donating drivers.

Today, Gilliam said he didn’t know how many citations the department had issued over the law’s lifetime, but that it was something officers tried to avoid.

“We don’t always just necessarily cite the first time we talk to somebody,” he said. “We try to educate them.”

The fine for a first-time offense is $60.

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