September 9, 2013

Since ban in Portland, few compliance issues

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Nearly a month after a city ordinance banned loitering in traffic medians, Portland police have yet to cite anyone for breaking the rule.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said the city has seen "no real issues" since the ordinance took effect Aug. 15 and no summonses have been issued.

"It's primarily been voluntary compliance," Sauschuck said. "Everyone has been pretty easy to work with."

The City Council in July unanimously passed the ban, saying it was needed to protect public safety, both for panhandlers and others. The ordinance was passed in response to a recent spike in panhandling at several high-traffic gateway intersections.

Under the ordinance, police officers can issue a civil citation, which can lead to a $100 to $500 fine.

Before the ban went into effect, police officers informed panhandlers about the new ordinance. Sauschuck said last month that the department would do a "soft rollout" that was more focused on providing people with warnings than issuing citations.

He said Friday that the police department has received "a couple" of calls from people reporting panhandlers in medians after the ban took effect. He said police respond to those complaints as they come in by telling people they must move from the medians. So far, everyone has voluntarily complied, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is still considering whether it will challenge Portland's street median panhandling ban in court, said spokeswoman Rachel Healy.

"We will continue fighting to protect the First Amendment rights of all the people of Maine, and that includes making sure that public spaces remain free and open to the public," she said. 

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

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