BRISTOL - The City Council wants to crack down on panhandlers.
The council voted Tuesday night to ask the ordinance committee to come up with stricter language that would facilitate a crackdown. This came after a report on the problem by Police Chief Brian Gould was sent to Councilman David Preleski.
“Bristol has observed an increase in aggressive panhandling, which has become very disruptive and a nuisance to the residents, business owners and visitors of the city,” Gould said in the report. “The Bristol Police Department has received a number of complaints giving reason to believe that there is an enhanced sense of fear, intimidation and disorder among our community. Bristol police officers are doing what they can to address these complaints; however, I have found our city ordinance language to be lacking.”
Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu added that she has been receiving reports from the police of panhandlers appearing at strategic spots at specific, apparently scheduled, times. She added that some panhandlers have appeared in the police blotter with listed addresses. Police responding to unrelated calls have also found “piles of cardboard signs” at some homes.
“We are concerned about the recent appearance of what seems to be an orchestrated solicitation effort along Route 6 by people representing themselves to be homeless,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “We do not condone this type of alleged scheme, and are taking steps to tighten some very old ordinance language that is on the books to allow the police to better manage and enforce this.”
Zoppo-Sassu said the city has zero tolerance for those who would attempt to exploit people’s empathy for the homeless.
“Bristol is a compassionate community as evidenced by the hundreds of volunteers from churches and agencies who work to improve our community each day,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “However, this type of aggressive panhandling is a bad first impression for those who live and work here, as well as those who are coming here to shop or attend events.”
Zoppo-Sassu said the police seek to connect those who are genuinely homeless with a safety net of support services.
“My advice to the public, many of whom are concerned and interested in helping those in need, is to make a direct contribution to the organizations that provide support to the populations that need it the most: the soup kitchens, St. Vincent dePaul, Brian’s Angels, Agape House, or any other outreach program,” she said.
Zoppo-Sassu said the current ordinance, under “Peddling, soliciting and canvassing article 2 section 17,” has a lot of “weird language” that was written 50 years ago and doesn’t apply to the situation Bristol faces with panhandlers today. The ordinance committee will attempt to “bulk up” the city’s enforcement power, she said.
“For example, we have a weird rule where no more than three people can gather in a particular area,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “But what if it is just one person? Do they just have free reign to be there all day? That does not look good for the people who live and work here and it is not what we want to portray.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.