Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pro-bum SF

It helps to have sympathetic judges.
Yet even as cities experiment with new approaches, those traditionally opposed to restrictions on panhandling are fighting back—notably, civil liberties groups and some homeless advocates, who oppose any actions that might criminalize conduct by even a minority of the homeless. In 2003, San Francisco residents overwhelmingly passed a ballot proposition authored by then-supervisor (and now mayor) Gavin Newsom outlawing in-your-face panhandling. But the ordinance has been ineffective because scores of volunteer lawyers, many from the city’s biggest law firms, have fought every citation. People cited for panhandling don’t even need to appear in court. They simply drop their citations in boxes at various advocacy groups, and the lawyers pick them up and appear in court, where judges have ruled that cops must file lengthy reports in order to get a conviction. The courts are dismissing about 85 percent of all tickets handed out under the ordinance, frustrating police, prosecutors, politicians, and residents who voted for it. “If you had been here several years ago, before the ordinance passed, and came back today, you wouldn’t see a difference in the level of panhandling. There’s as much as ever,” says supervisor Sean Elsbernd.

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