TEMPE, AZ - The City of Tempe is cracking down on aggressive panhandlers with a new ordinance.
The current law imposes up to $2,500 in fines and or six months in jail.
Under the new ordinance the penalties remain the same, but there are stricter guidelines for what is considered intrusive or aggressive behavior.
The ordinance prohibits people from approaching someone at an ATM, prevents them from setting up adjacent to a business entrance, and prohibits them from approaching within ten feet of someone shopping at a business or sitting out at a restaurant patio.
Frank Ellis, owner of Candy Addict along Mill said it is necessary because what is happening goes beyond being a nuisance but is actually dangerous.
"I've had people come in my store and actually threaten me," he said. "I've had customers who have been followed."
Ellis said his concern is not the people who are clearly in need but those who get aggressive.
"They come down in a group and sometimes they get money and then get drugs and get into fights," he said.
Some panhandling laws around the country and locally have been challenged and even struck down in the courts.
A Court of Appeals judge threw out a Phoenix ordinance a few years ago, ruling cities can't stop people simply from "asking for money."
The ACLU has also been involved in several challenges nationwide where ordinances are written in a way to impede free speech or clearly "criminalize" the panhandler, versus other people who may be soliciting funds along the street for charities or other causes.
A local ACLU rep did not express concern about the Tempe law at this point.
Tempe Police said anyone can report aggressive panhandling at (480) 350-8311 or call 911 in an emergency.
The new restrictions go into effect in 30 days.
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