DAYTON - The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio cautioned Dayton City Commissioners against passing an ordinance that would allow law enforcement to arrest any person holding a sign asking for money. Currently, city law regulates panhandlers who actively ask for money, but does not cover a person who is only holding a sign. In addition, those who are cited under current law are ticketed rather than being arrested. Anyone arrested under the proposed law would be charged with a fourth degree misdemeanor.
“To arrest someone for simply holding a sign is unnecessary and unfair,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “While people may not like seeing the financially disadvantaged asking for help, they pose no threat and are harming no one. This ordinance amounts to nothing more than an attack on those most in need.”
The ACLU of Ohio has previously challenged laws that unfairly restrict panhandling in cities across Ohio, including Dayton, Cincinnati, and Akron. Courts have ruled that cities may not arbitrarily limit panhandling because it is protected free speech.
“The First Amendment protects all peoples’ right to speak, or hold a sign, and that includes asking for money,” said Link. “This is a transparent attempt to backdoor restrictions on the free speech rights of the poorest people in Dayton. Soliciting donations has time and again been classified as free speech, not as a business.”
According to news reports, Dayton has already began the crackdown on panhandlers in recent months. In the first five months of 2011, citations for panhandling rose by almost 200% over 2010.
“The law would also be a terrible waste of taxpayer resources,” concluded Link. “Every person arrested for merely holding a sign will cost the city hundreds of dollars in law enforcement personnel time, processing fees, court costs, and jail fees. Rather than wasting money on locking up those in need, city officials would be better served investing in community programs that would help these people get back on their feet.”