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Patchogue bans aggressive panhandling after complaints

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, at the Patchogue Theatre

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts in 2014, says an aggressive panhandling ban approved Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, was in response to complaints. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Patchogue has banned aggressive panhandling with what officials say is the first such law on Long Island.

Village officials said such pushy efforts to solicit — touching people, following them, acting intimidating — has steadily increased, so they unanimously voted Tuesday night to add the provision to the Village Code.

“Over the last year, we’ve had many people complain,” Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said at the board of trustees meeting. “People aren’t feeling safe.”

Aggressive solicitation such as making physical contact, blocking a person, approaching an operating vehicle, or attempting to solicit someone after they have already declined is prohibited, effective immediately.

Panhandlers also can’t threaten, intimidate, disrupt or harass residents, tourists or shoppers near banks, parking meters, schools, doorways and automated teller machines.

“We’re not seeking to limit speech, but the aggressive manner and the way that they do it,” village attorney Brian Egan said. “It’s not a ban on panhandling, but panhandling plus.”

Violators would face a fine of at least $250 for the first offense, according to the code.

The legislation is modeled after similar laws adopted in Rochester and Buffalo, and the 2006 New York Court of Appeals decision People vs. Barton, village officials said.

The purpose of the legislation is to promote tourism and quality of life in the village, Pontieri said.

Village officials said code enforcement officers will issue tickets to aggressive panhandlers and Suffolk County police have agreed to do the same.

Residents at the meeting said most of the solicitation takes place in front of the library on East Main Street and at the Long Island Rail Road station.

John Murray III, president of the Patchogue Retailers Committee, in a letter to the board that was read during the meeting, said the group supports the law “because it is consistent with our goal of improving the shopping experience in Patchogue. We have all had customers make comments about not feeling safe because of panhandling.”

The Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce also supported the law, said executive director David Kennedy. “We thank the village for spending the time to craft something that makes sense,” he said.

New York State does not have a similar code, village officials said. The state used to have a panhandling statute, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 struck it down on the basis it violated First Amendment rights, Egan said.

Village trustee Joseph Keyes said Wednesday that he wants an additional code enforcement officer patrolling the front area of the library, a public destination where the panhandlers have chosen to congregate, on East Main Street in hopes of deterring the panhandling.

“It’s a distraction,” Keyes said of the panhandlers in and around the library. “Legally, we are kind of limited. But we can write summonses. I think when people see a blue uniform, people won’t be as open as to what they’re doing.”

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