Columbus ignores panhandling law after ruling in sign case

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Columbus division of police has stopped enforcing panhandling laws in Columbus. This is part of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling back in 2015 regarding a case about church signs in Arizona. Lawyers challenged those laws because of freedom of speech and the first amendment.

Businesses in the area and residents are concerned about what this means for Columbus.

Steve Faulker owns Playful Pets and sees panhandlers in front of his business daily, he says he’s watched them go to the gas station and buy beer with money. He says they urinate and defecate in front of his business which has to be cleaned daily.

“They’re walking up to cars, their tapping on windows, their soliciting folks as their turning onto Broad Street,” said Steve Faulkner. “If they know the city is not going to be enforcing them I think it certainly helps them step up their efforts to be out here and panhandle all the time.”

Columbus Police legal advisor Jeff Ferbe tells NBC 4 that Columbus PD can no longer force panhandlers to stay a certain number of feet away from parking meters, bus stops or outdoor patios.

Palmo Aracri is the Owner of Café Napolitana in downtown Columbus who says it’s got a little bit worse than it was 5-10 years ago but learned how to deal with panhandlers who come near the business.

“You have to be somewhat confrontational, you have to be stern to protect your business. Usually, we do call the police if they don’t move,” said Aracri.

Robert Hall has been panhandling for 4 years now, he agrees that panhandlers should not be aggressive.

“There’s too much other stuff going on to worry about us doing this. We don’t bother nobody, the only time I said cops should do something when someone is being aggressive about it,” said Hall.

Faulkner is concerned now that police can’t enforce the law that there may be more panhandlers out in public.

“If there’s no one for them to do that any longer I think they’ll be out there in greater numbers and that concerns me,” said Faulkner.

Even though Columbus police officers aren’t enforcing the actual panhandling law that doesn’t mean that panhandlers can’t face other charges for menacing or disorderly conduct.

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