Burgess: Crackdown on panhandlers necessary

Burgess: Crackdown on panhandlers necessary »Play Video
SEATTLE -- Timothy Harris is a tough critic of a proposed crack down on aggressive panhandlers.

"It's too broad, too broad," he said. "It allows too much discretion on the street and how its enforced."

But Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess doesn't see it that way.

"Well, it's not true. The ordinance is very narrowly defined. It lists very specific behaviors," said Burgess.

The issue took center stage at Seattle University School of Law on Tuesday during a panel discussion about tweaking a 10- year-old solicitation ordinance.

"These individuals are street hustlers, street thugs, some of our drug traffickers downtown," Burgess said.

Burgess said a solution needs traction, and now is the time to specifically define "aggressive panhandling" to following, blocking or soliciting within 15 feet of an ATM or a parking meter. Burgess wants to make it a civil infraction punishable by a $50 fine.

"This is an ordinance that gives our officers an extra tool to go up to individuals (and say), 'You cant engage in that kind of behavior. Move along,'" Burgess said.

And moving along is exactly the problem to homeless advocates.

"Out of the city, preferably, because they cost money in the jail system. But there's a big incentive there to get the heck out of dodge and, that's what it's about. It's banishment. It's a banishment program," said Harris.

But Burgess says if it passes, police officers will be trained on outreach program to make sure panhandlers know what is prohibited.

The council could vote on the proposal by mid-April.