By MATT KOESTERS
The holiday season is again upon us, and with it comes an increase in the chances that outside forces will attempt to convince you to give up your hard-earned cash. And it doesn’t begin at the entrance to the store.
The Clarksville Town Council is trying to put a stop to unwelcome requests for charity. It voted unanimously Monday to adopt a new ordinance designed to curtail aggressive panhandling, which is something that seems to be on the rise in parking lots outside of big-box stores in the town, said Clarksville Police Chief Mark Palmer.
“Aggressive panhandling targets more people that are coming to the parking lot, or approaching you and your wife as you’re getting out of the car,” Palmer explained. “They basically have you backed into a corner asking you for money, and it’s kind of putting you in a compromising situation. That’s what we’re looking at, the aggressive, where you’re actually feeling intimidated.”
The ordinance also creates areas where panhandling is expressly forbidden, such as at bus stops and within 15 feet of a bank entrance or an ATM, Town Attorney Chris Sturgeon said.
“The whole idea behind the 15 feet is so people can do their private transactions without feeling intimidated or threatened in any way,” Sturgeon said.
The ordinance does not allow for jail time as a punishment for violating the new ordinance, but violators can be fined, Sturgeon said.
“We’re hoping to deter this type of behavior,” Sturgeon said. “If [violators] get cited enough times, hopefully they’ll stop and kind of leave people alone.”
The ordinance makes exceptions for the town’s police and fire departments to allow them to continue to collect money for charitable causes they sponsor, but does not include a provision for permits for others. However, private business owners have the option to allow groups to solicit donations on their property, provided the groups are given written permission, Sturgeon said.
“Say Walmart wants to have some group out there to ask for donations,” Sturgeon said. “That’s allowable under this ordinance, as long as they have written permission from Walmart.”
The holiday season usually includes an increase in panhandling activity, Sturgeon said, which is why the council decided to act now.
“It’s getting close to the holidays, and that activity typically ticks up during the holidays,” Sturgeon said.
In addition to the holiday season, the town needs to protect itself from elements that may be attracted there by the Ohio River Bridges Project, said Councilman Tim Hauber, who made the motion to pass the ordinance. Hauber described the ordinance as “long overdue.”
“In regards to the situation with the bridges project and a lot of people moving around in the area, we just want to be proactive and make sure that Clarksville’s a booming economic area,” Hauber said. “And there’s a lot of opportunities out there, and panhandling’s one of the things that’s on the rise.”