Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to panhandling, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Enforcement Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
1 Prohibiting aggressive panhandling Subjects the most offensive panhandlers to criminal penalties; reinforces informal rules of conduct among panhandlers …the law can survive legal challenge, and panhandlers are clearly informed of what constitutes legal vs. illegal conduct Enforcement is difficult because few panhandlers are intentionally aggressive; officers should be properly trained to make aggressive panhandling charges
2 Prohibiting panhandling in specified areas Restricts panhandling in areas where it is most likely to disrupt commerce and be intimidating …the law can survive legal challenge, panhandlers are clearly informed of where they cannot panhandle, and enforcement is consistent Costs associated with properly posting areas where panhandling is prohibited
3 Prohibiting interference with pedestrians or vehicles Restricts conduct that commonly disrupts commerce and intimidates pedestrians; deals directly with window washing by denying window washers access to motorists …the law can survive legal challenge, and enforcement is consistent Proving intent to interfere with pedestrians can be difficult
4 Banning panhandlers from certain areas as a condition of probation Denies panhandlers access to areas where panhandling is profitable …panhandlers are clearly informed of where they cannot go, and police officers are informed of which panhandlers are banned from the area Requires the cooperation of prosecutors, judges and probation officials
5 Sentencing convicted panhandlers to appropriate community service Tailors the punishment to the offense; makes the offender consider the impact panhandling has on the community …the community service is meaningful and properly supervised Requires the cooperation of prosecutors, judges and corrections officials
6 Requiring panhandlers to obtain solicitation permits Discourages panhandling through procedural requirements that many panhandlers are unlikely to follow; allows for easier enforcement (no witnesses are required) …police officers are informed of the permit requirement and consistently enforce it May be viewed as unfair by the public; little is known about how effective this approach is
Public Education Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
7 Discouraging people from giving money to panhandlers, and encouraging them to give to charities that serve the needy Decreases the supply of money to panhandlers and, consequently, lowers the level of panhandling …the message that adequate social services are available is credible, and the message is heavily promoted May require new investments in social services to make the message credible; advertising and promoting the message incurs costs
8 Using civilian patrols to monitor and discourage panhandling Increases the level of official monitoring and intervention …civilian patrollers are properly trained and supported by police Salary, training and equipment costs
9 Encouraging people to buy and give panhandlers vouchers, instead of money Restricts panhandlers' ability to buy alcohol and drugs …supported by merchants and the community Start-up and administrative costs for the program; a black market may allow panhandlers to convert vouchers to cash, undermining the program; people may not buy vouchers
Situational Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
10 Modifying the physical environment to discourage panhandlers from congregating in the area Discourages panhandlers from soliciting in an area by making it less comfortable to do so …private (and public) property owners understand how the environment can contribute to panhandling Requires property owners' cooperation; costs of making environmental changes; some risk that changes will also make the area less attractive for legitimate users
11 Regulating alcohol sales to chronic inebriates who panhandle in the area Forces panhandlers to travel farther to buy alcohol, thereby potentially displacing them from the area …liquor license holders understand the rationale for liquor law enforcement, and enforcement is consistent Will not address panhandlers who are not chronic inebriates, including drug addicts
12 Controlling window-washing materials Makes window washing (squeegeeing) more difficult …property owners cooperate in efforts to control the use of the materials Costs (usually modest) of modifying the environment or securing the materials
13 Promoting legitimate uses of public places to displace panhandlers Discourages people from giving money to panhandlers by encouraging them to give to legitimate street solicitors …passersby approve of and support legitimate street solicitors May attract more people to an area, making it more attractive to panhandlers
Social Services/Treatment Response
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
14 Providing adequate social services and substance abuse treatment to reduce panhandlers' need to panhandle Removes panhandlers' excuses for panhandling; undermines the rationale for giving money to panhandlers; addresses the underlying problems that cause some people to panhandle …there are outreach efforts to identify and serve panhandlers who will benefit from social services, especially the most chronic offenders; substance-abuse treatment programs are sufficiently long term to be effective; panhandling enforcement is consistent, to motivate panhandlers to seek legitimate aid; and social services and police efforts are coordinated May require substantial new investments in social services if the community is lacking them
Response With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
15 Enforcing laws that prohibit all panhandling     Unlikely to survive legal challenge