I often hear the following question: how can I help when I see someone panhandling?
Or, maybe the question is phrased as: what is the city or what are the police doing about this problem?
This week, I want to write about panhandling and what we, as a community, can do to help with this issue.
As Dublin's chief of police, my best advice is to NOT give money to panhandlers when you see them in our community.
While this might seem like harsh advice, we are very aware that, unfortunately, panhandling to fund drug or alcohol dependency is very common.
First, what exactly is panhandling?
Generally, there are two types of panhandling: passive and aggressive.
Passive panhandling is soliciting for money or other items of value without threat or menace.
Aggressive panhandling includes soliciting coercively, using menacing actions and/or by using a stated or implied threat.
Many of you have asked me and other Dublin officers if panhandling is legal.
The short answer is - yes, it can be.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a case covering churches' free speech.
By many legal interpretations, this court ruling also protects panhandlers and their actions under the First Amendment.
With this ruling in mind, as long as individuals are on public property, such as sidewalks and they are not breaking any laws, they have the right to panhandle.
However, if a panhandler enters a roadway, or stands on a roadway median to collect from vehicles, then Dublin police officers can take enforcement action.
However, the panhandling must be observed by officers, and panhandlers often move along when they know they are being observed by police.
For your safety, and the safety of those who are panhandling, we recommend that while in your car, do not roll down your windows or engage with those standing on the side of the road.
Please consider your potential liability if a panhandler is struck by a vehicle while coming to you for a donation.
Our community is ready to help those in need. Food, shelter, and assistance are all available.
Both public education to discourage giving cash to panhandlers, and adequate access to resources lead to a more effective and comprehensive response to panhandling.
That is why all of our officers carry community resource cards to distribute when we see a panhandler, letting them know where to get help.
Ultimately, everyone in our community can help by not giving money to panhandlers.
Our goal is to provide help if someone is in need, and willing to accept it. Providing money to panhandlers, however, provides the incentive to resist seeking other services for assistance.
If you see a crime in progress, or feel threatened by someone panhandling in the city, call 911.
If you see any other violations of the law that are not life-threatening, you can contact Dublin police at 614-889-1112.
Please learn more about panhandling on the city's website at: http://dublinohiousa.gov/living/panhandling-in-dublin.
Dublin Chief of Police Heinz von Eckartsberg submitted the City Notes column.