Fairlawn panhandling rules get thumbs up
Countywide measure may be next
FAIRLAWN — Fairlawn’s panhandling registration ordinance is approximately a month old, and city officials said they have already seen results from the new law. And now Summit County officials are looking into enacting countywide panhandling legislation.
During its April 16 meeting, Fairlawn City Council unanimously approved legislation regulating panhandlers in the city. Fairlawn Law Director Ed Riegler described a panhandler as “anyone who is requesting something for nothing,” and with the new regulation, anyone who wishes to engage in panhandling in the city must register with the Fairlawn Police Department.
The registration includes a written application asking for information such as the applicant’s name, address and emergency contact, and the presentation of a government-issued photo identification card. The applicant also must state whether he or she has ever been convicted of a crime other than a “minor misdemeanor traffic offense.”
Fairlawn Police Chief Kenneth Walsh said five people have requested permits so far.
“We’ve had compliance with the requirements of the ordinance as far as people who may want to panhandle in the city have been registering,” he said. “We’ve only had one citation for a person who did not register. Other than that, we’ve been checking the ones that do come in. In three instances, we’ve issued three permits. We have rejected one person to date and one is still under investigation.”
Walsh said unregistered panhandlers are given at least one warning, along with a copy of the ordinance. Panhandlers who have been approved by the police department must wear a permit on their outermost garment.
“It’s a bright, lime-colored green and it’s easily visible even from a car driving by. If our officers see that, they may stop and check it, but for the most part probably not,” Walsh said. “But if there’s someone standing in the city panhandling and they don’t have one, an officer certainly will stop them.”
The one person who has been cited so far, Walsh stated, had already applied for a permit and was waiting for the results.
“They were warned and they were given a copy of the ordinance, just as the other people we’ve approached since the passage of the ordinance were given, and he wasn’t in compliance,” the chief said. “He had requested a permit, and we were in the process of doing a background investigation, but he didn’t wait.”
Since the legislation went into effect a few weeks ago, Fairlawn Council President Russ Sharnsky (at large) said he has seen fewer panhandlers operating in the city.
“They’ve been kind of nonexistent in Fairlawn right now,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because they’re having problems qualifying — meeting the requirements of the ordinance — or if they’ve decided they don’t want the hassle of messing with our law. They’ve moved elsewhere.”
Walsh said his department also has noticed a reduction in the number of panhandlers.
“Yeah, we have. Definitely,” he said. “Some of the places where we would see one or two on a daily basis, we haven’t seen anyone there.”
According to Capt. Greg Lang, of the Bath Police Department, there hasn’t been a migration of panhandlers from Fairlawn to Bath.
“Fairlawn’s new ordinance hasn’t impacted us at all — at least not yet, it’s still a new ordinance,” he said. “But we haven’t seen any new panhandlers. It’s basically the same ones we’ve had for the past year or so.”
As a township, Lang said, Bath’s hands are tied on passing any ordinances regarding panhandling.
In order for Bath to have registration for panhandlers, a law would have to be enacted by a higher level of government — and Summit County Council President Jerry Feeman (D-District 6) said that is exactly what is being considered.
“We are in the process right now of putting together legislation. It’s actually in the hands of our law department,” he said. “We’re looking at Akron and we’re going to look at Fairlawn and what they are doing, because there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. We feel really confident that what they passed is good.”
Feeman said he has heard from numerous county residents who would like to see an ordinance regarding panhandling.
“The residents are extremely interested in doing this. They feel somewhat threatened when they go up to a traffic light or are stopped behind a long line of cars with nowhere to go,” he said. “I’m looking at this from a safety perspective. You just don’t know what’s going through the heads of some of the people who are out there panhandling for money.”
Feeman said he expects to receive a rough draft of the proposed legislation sometime this week, and he intends to bring up the issue during the June 4 Summit County Council meeting.
“It won’t be on the agenda, but I’m going to ask the administration for an update,” he said. “And the following week, I want to see a piece of legislation and at least get a first reading. We are going to move on this.”
Fairlawn Mayor William Roth said panhandling legislation is aimed at “regulating panhandling, not eliminating it.”
“The whole purpose is to get compliance, but really to generate safety,” he said.
Either way, the mayor said he has heard nothing but positive feedback since the ordinance first went into effect.
“Everyone I’ve talked to has thanked us for passing the ordinance and are very happy with it,” he said.
“People were saying we need to do something — that we need some kind of legislation,” he said. “There was even fighting among the panhandlers themselves. They were fighting over the spaces and the corners and things. People were uncomfortable. They felt threatened. And those were the kinds of comments we heard.”
And even with the law in place, Sharnsky said it’s still important to be careful.
“My stance on this has always been for anyone who is looking to donate to choose to give to a known, reputable charity,” he said. “That way, they know where their funds are going and it will be funneled to the people who really need it.”
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