Dependable Erection

Friday, January 25, 2008

Guest editorial - Say no to the solicitation ordinance

Newman Aguiar is one of the best informed, most reasonable people i know in Durham. He posted this earlier this morning to the PAC 2 listserv, and has kindly given permission for it to be reprinted here.

I've touched on the disingenuousness of the arguments being made in favor of the ordinance in past posts. Here, Newman challenges the need for a panhandling ban on its own terms.
Dear Commissioners:

I understand that most of you have given preliminary approval for the roadside solicitation ordinance. The last time this ordinance was before you, our community discussed the merits of the ordinance and it was clear that this ordinance would do nothing or little to enhance the safety of the panhandlers or the community. In contrast, if there is any intention to enforce this ordinance, it is clear that the cost would be too great to justify any benefit that could be imagined. It's been over a year since residents discussed this issue at length on the PAC2 list and I encourage you to review the archives before you vote to approve the ordinance on Monday.

Our judicial system is overburdened and we are actively working with the State to obtain the necessary resources to manage our current case load. The situation is so critical that the recent Comprehensive Gang Assessment recommended that "Durham should request emergency assistance from the State of North Carolina to reduce the backlog."

We are struggling to keep our most violent offenders off the street and are failing to give them a speedy trial. The Comprehensive Gang Assessment also pointed out that "the time from arrest to prosecution of serious gang crimes in Durham takes far too long - on average - nearly three years after the crime." The time from arrest to prosecution, not just for serious gang crimes, but all crime, is far too long. The consequences of these delays pose a significant burden on our limited judicial resources and create a potentially dangerous situation for the citizens of Durham.

(MORE . . . )
Our jail is already overcrowded. Notwithstanding the cost of holding someone in our County jail, we are struggling to find available beds for individuals charged with serious criminal offenses.

Would it be wise under these circumstances to be considering such an ordinance that at best could only serve to further stress our criminal justice system?

We also know, from an evaluation of arrest records, that the individuals arrested the most in Durham are arrested for aggressive panhandling or other nuisances. We know from these data that, in Durham, arresting and charging aggressive panhandlers has not worked to reduce, much less prevent, the aggressive panhandlers from returning to the street corners. Using existing
ordinances, the police department has continued to respond to citizen complaints and continues to arrest and process these individuals at great cost to the citizens of Durham. Why do we believe that the lesser charge that would result from the proposed ordinance would somehow be more

Individuals who work daily with the population most impacted by this ordinance have spoken against this ordinance.

The proposed ordinance is broad and doesn't just target panhandlers. What do you anticipate will bridge the gap for the individuals who survive off the few dollars they earn peddling newspapers or other products to the occupants of vehicles?

I am certain that this ordinance was crafted with the best of intentions, but the evidence from other cities clearly indicates that such ordinances are significantly misguided and seldom enforced. What harm can there be from an ordinance that in all likelihood will never be enforced, or, perhaps, selectively enforced? Given the current situation in Durham, it seems reasonable to anticipate that we run the risk of making Durham less safe.

As of the 3rd quarter of 2006, the NC Dept. of Commerce reports that 14.2 percent (as of 2003) of Durham residents live in poverty. Poverty levels in Durham are above the State average. Thank you for your support of the projects that seek to end homelessness, to provide a System of Care for adults and to find compassionate solutions for individuals struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues. You are taking positive steps that will help us address the needs of this population. We can do better as a community than pass an ordinance that will join Durham with a long list of cities and counties across the United States which have done the same and failed to have any impact on the problem the ordinance seeks to address.

Due to an ongoing commitment, I will not be able to appear before you in person on Monday to urge you to reconsider. Please reconsider your support of this ordinance.



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