Arresting someone for aggressive panhandling in Manteca in all likelihood will not result in punishment in the form of jail time or even community service.
It’s due to the overburdened San Joaquin County criminal justice system and an overtaxed jail.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion said it is extremely rare for the district attorney’s office to prosecute such misdemeanors even if special requests are made.
That’s why he told the Manteca City Council the best enforcement outcome is to make aggressive panhandlers feel uncomfortable with plying their trade.
But in order to have police officers effectively do that, citizens encountering aggressive panhandlers need to call Manteca Police instead of simply leaving an area where an encounter took place or making a complaint to elected leaders.
If not, the city will lack justification to impose outright bans on panhandling in areas such as Library Park. Such a legal ban would make it easier to clear out individuals aggressively soliciting by making it possible for police to apply continuing pressure without trampling on the rights of those panhandling.
City Attorney John Brinton explained to the Manteca City Council Tuesday night an ordinance might be able to be put in place that would pass legal muster if there is an established record showing a pattern of aggressive panhandling in specific areas. Council members have reported receiving multiple complaints from residents about aggressive panhandling, with many coming from encounters at Library Park.
However, reports are not being filed with the police in most cases.
That prompted council members to suggest posting signs in Library Park advising citizens to report aggressive panhandling to police.
Councilman Vince Hernandez said complaints about aggressive behavior by the homeless aren’t limited to Library Park.
He noted that youth using city baseball fields in various parks have encountered the homeless sleeping in dugouts. Sometimes the encounters have been unpleasant, Hernandez relayed. Hernandez also has had complaints made by the elderly who encounter panhandlers in other city parks.
Hernandez added that during certain times of the day some joggers will not pass through the Library Park area on the Tidewater Bikeway due to panhandling.
Councilman Steve DeBrum said he understands that those who panhandle have rights but added that “no one should feel threatened” when using a park or going about their business in Manteca.
Council also mentioned citizens have been complaining about panhandling at freeway off ramps.
While it isn’t aggressive panhandling, any type of panhandling is prohibited at such locations. Police — when they encounter it or are made aware of it — will take steps to have the panhandlers move.
Obligacion noted the law clearly defines aggressive panhandling. Panhandling in an aggressive manner means:
• approaching or speaking to a person, or following a person before, during or after soliciting, if that conduct is intended or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm to oneself or to another, damage to or loss of property, or otherwise be intimidated into giving money or other things of value.
• intentionally touching, or causing physical contact with another person or an occupied vehicle without that person’s consent during the course of soliciting.
• intentionally blocking or interfering with the safe or free passage of a pedestrian or vehicle by any means, including unreasonably causing a pedestrian or vehicle operator to take evasive action to avoid physical contact.
• using violent or threatening gestures toward a person.
• persisting in closely following or approaching a person after they have informed the solicitor they do not want to give money or any other thing of value to the solicitor; or
• using profane, offensive or abusive language which is inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction, either before, during, or after solicitation.
A city ordinance prohibits any type of solicitation within 15 feet of the entrance to any financial institution during business hours or an ATM at any time. It is also illegal to solicit anyone who is in a motor vehicle within 100 feet of an intersection controlled with traffic lights.
Soliciting can take place in public parking lots only a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise.
Mayor Willie Weatherford, who is retired as city police chief, noted times were different when he started out as an officer in Manteca in 1966.
He said once a month the department “conducted a bum march” that put the homeless on trains to Stockton.
Waterford said the times have changed as have the laws dictated by court rulings.
He added the problem isn’t just in Manteca and that it is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.