One year after the Lawrence City Commission passed an ordinance intended to stop aggressive panhandling, the panhandlers are still around - especially downtown.
"You can come down here any day and get asked for money. Any day of the week," said Ken Campbell, owner of Winfield House, 835 Mass.
Bob Schumm, owner of Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, 719 Mass., agreed.
"I've been approached quite a few times myself during the past year," Schumm said. "I've called the police on some people who are aggressive when you say 'no thank you' and they have some foul response for you."
Five citations have been written for panhandling in the past year, according to Municipal Court records. Of those, four were dismissed and one is pending. City prosecutor Jerry Little was not in the office Tuesday so no other details about the cases were available.
But at least one Lawrence city commissioner, who owns a downtown business, doesn't think five citations accurately portrays the scope of the city's panhandling problem. And City Commissioner Mike Amyx encourages anyone who thinks they've been the target of an aggressive panhandler to call police.
The Lawrence ordinance, which was passed in July 2006, makes it a misdemeanor if someone aggressively panhandles on a public sidewalk. Aggressive panhandling could be construed as someone who continues to ask for money after they've been told "no."
The city does not bar all panhandling, although it is prohibited next to an ATM and a few other places where people could feel threatened, said Scott Miller, an attorney in the city's legal services office.
In April, Kansas City, Mo., approved a new panhandling law - a law its police department says it won't enforce. Top police officials say the law - which, like Lawrence's ordinance, bars aggressive panhandling - is unconstitutional.
But it sets broad definitions of panhandling and restricts other types of panhandling from certain areas of Kansas City. Asking for a handout is allowed in most of the city, but not on the Plaza or in Westport, for example.
"The new (Kansas City) law doesn't share a lot in common with our ordinance," Miller said.
The Lawrence ordinance is similar to one Kansas City had from 1996 until it recently was repealed, Miller said. That law was being enforced, he said.
Anyone convicted of aggressive panhandling in Lawrence would face a fine and possible jail time. Because it is likely the violator won't have the money to pay the fine, that person could be ordered to perform public service work.
Amyx, owner of a Massachusetts Street barbershop, said he knows panhandling remains a problem downtown.
"I encourage everyone to call the police and let them take care of it," he said. "I think one of the things that needs to happen is I need to sit down with (city) staff and the police department to find out why more people aren't being charged if, in fact, calls are being made."
Schumm and Campbell said they have called police about some panhandlers. They said they didn't always pay attention to see whether officers arrived or whether anyone was cited. Sometimes officers have talked with them after responding.
Police Sgt. Paul Fellers said officers respond to panhandling calls, just like any other complaints they receive.
"If an individual calls we'll investigate it, and if there is reason to believe (a violation) occurred, then we can take action," he said. "We'll talk to the reporting party and see if there are any witnesses."