Questions Posted to "Ask a Dispatcher"
Q. Is it illegal to give money to those panhandling on the sidewalks downtown? If not, it it routine for JPD officers to harass citizens who DO give money? Just wondering....
Dear Juneau Resident,
It is not illegal to give money to panhandlers. Officers are required to protect the right of panhandlers to ask for money as long as the person panhandling follows the rules in the ordinance. Some restrictions are no panhandling at night, near a bank or ATM, or in an aggressive manner where the person approached feels threatened. When people who dislike panhandling in any form complain to JPD about someone asking them for money the response from the department is that panhandling is freedom of speech as long as the ordinance is followed.
However, officers are allowed to talk to charity minded people about how to give to the homeless in a responsible manner. You may have seen the television ads out of Anchorage where the police chief and mayor ask people to make donations for the homeless to groups who feed and house the homeless. That ad asks people to avoid giving to panhandlers because the money could be spent for alcohol or drugs. In Juneau we have the Glory Hole, which provides food and shelter for homeless residents. Not everyone, especially visitors, know that and it is okay for an officer to discuss donation options with people who are giving to panhandlers. That behavior would not be harassment.
If you believe you see an officer actually harassing someone for giving to a panhandler, you should immediately call the officer's supervisor at 586-0600.