Although he has questioned the need for one since being asked by a council member to look into the matter many months ago, Crookston Police Chief Tim Motherway didn't object when the Crookston City Council's Ways & Means Committee this week recommended approval of a new "aggressive solicitation" ordinance.
The ordinance is met to address aggressive panhandlers, Motherway said, that don't take no for an answer when they ask someone for some money, and even follow them down the sidewalk or into a building and continue to pressure a person to give them money.
The thing is, though, the police chief added, even though several cities across Minnesota are putting similar ordinances on the books, aggressive panhandling is pretty much a non-issue in Crookston. Although he was asked last year to look into the matter due to complaints about a couple people standing in the median and holding cardboard signs at busy intersections on Crookston's north end, Motherway stressed then and stressed again this week that people standing in the public right-of-way and holding signs are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
"We can't do anything about that," he told council members. "If they're coming into the roadway, it's probably some type of pedestrian traffic violation, but if they're just standing there, they are protected."
Last year, Motherway said, police responded to a report of a couple of panhandlers by M&H downtown, but existing ordinances covered anything that the individuals may have been doing wrong.
If there's been any aggressive panhandling in town in the past, he added, the city's existing disorderly conduct violation on the books likely would have sufficed.
Asked by a council member if he thinks the new ordinance is needed, Motherway said "in all honesty" he doesn't think it's necessary. But if a situation related to aggressive panhandling eventually arises, he added, the more specific ordinance "will probably let us address it better."