New legislation to combat aggressive panhandling in Patchogue was passed by the Village Board on Tuesday night.
“It is another another tool in the toolbox for police officers,” said Mayor Paul Pontieri.
During a Village Board meeting that preceded the board vote, the mayor and trustees informed the public they have been fielding complaints about what they deemed to be aggressive panhandling around Main Street over the last year, which prompted the action.
“[Safety] is part of our job,” said Pontieri, who admitted he had been approached by panhandlers in the past.
The new law, which was adopted from similar codes passed by the cities of Rochester and Buffalo, is “not a ban on panhandling, but on panhandling-plus,” said village attorney Brian Egan.
“Panhandling plus” is defined as anything that constitutes a safety risk through aggressive behavior during panhandling.
Some examples include any physical contact, being followed, continual solicitation after a negative response, the blocking of a passage of a patron walking or driving, and the use of intimidating rhetoric.
The anti-aggressive panhandling law will be complaint-driven, and enforced by public safety and Suffolk County Police in public places like parkings lots, schools, libraries, and sidewalks.
Also, the law is meant to better secure areas where there are money transactions, for instance, around parking meters, ATMs, and bank entrances.
Those found guilty will be fined on a first offense and could face arrest if accused again within 12 months.
Residents showed support for the new measures Tuesday night.
“We know panhandling can’t just be outlawed, but certainly aggressive behavior needed to be stopped,” said David Kennedy, executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, “and I commend [the Village Board] because it was quick; this has only been an issue in the last six months to a year.”
Business owners like James Gilroy, the co-owner of Fulton’s Gate Irish Pub on East Main Street, also requested the removal of the benches in front of Capital Bank Plaza.
“[Panhandlers] spot us, they spot the ATMs,” he said. “You take away the benches and you take away their vantage point.”
Before acting the board had considered input from business owners that included Gilroy and others, and stated this was a first step in a direction toward making the growing village safer overall.
“We have to begin someplace, and work our way up from there,” Pontieri said.
Top: Panhandlers and loiterers around Capital One Plaza on East Main Street has been a source of complaints from residents and business owners. (file photo)