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Tightened Panhandling Proposal May Not Get Enough Support To Move Forward

City of San Antonio

The debate is heating up over San Antonio Police Chief William McManus' proposal to tighten the city's panhandling ordinance.

The issue, which was presented to the council's public safety committee in early September, will again be heard by the same committee in October. But it's not being received well by some sitting members of the committee.

District 9 Councilman Joe Krier believes that the ordinance may be at odds with freedom of speech and that people can express their right to give a buck to someone if they want.

"I have serious reservations about it and if I had to vote today, I would vote no," said Krier. "But I don't have to vote today."

Earlier this month, McManus presented a proposal to strengthen the policy on panhandling. The city council tackled the issue in 2011, passing an ordinance banning panhandling within 50 ft. of an ATM, parking garage or meter, bus stops and outdoor dining spots.

But McManus said the danger has remained. He recalled arresting and citing one man several times.

"Another morning I saw him out there," said McManus. "He was pounding on a woman's door trying to get her to roll her window down. She ran a red light, almost caused an accident in doing that."

One step taken to decrease panhandling has been working with Bexar County Mental Health, the probate court, and the center for health care services to help chronic offenders. Arrests for panhandling are up 34% according to police.

Graffiti, prostitution, and burglary of vehicles are some of the other areas where McManus said can be improved to make the city safer, and are included in the same proposal.

Police have held meetings with the Texas Lodging Association to discourage hourly room rentals to crack down on prostitution. Arrests for prostitution are up nearly 10%, according to police.

In addition, a police task force spends the summer and holidays looking for people breaking into cars.

Several shopping centers reconfigured their parking lots after partnering with the local business community.

McManus said you can help, too.

"We need the public's help in dealing with car burglaries. And that help is simply don't leave things in your car that people can break into and steal," he said.

The chief also reported graffiti initiatives are working. Arrests have resulted in a decrease of reported graffiti cases by nearly 9%, according to McManus.

The proposals will go back to the public safety committee, which is chaired by District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, in October.

Whether McManus will come back to the committee in the same form he first presented, Krier said he doesn't know. Krier said he recognizes that some constituents have concerns, especially about panhandling, while others have told him they have the right to help anyone they wish.

Perception about panhandling, especially downtown, may still be negative. It's not what it once was, Krier noted of his own experience.

"Does it encourage them (panhandlers) to do it more?" asked Krier. "Yes, but that's life. As Nancy Reagan used to say, 'Just say no.' "

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.