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New law would curb panhandlers

Aggressive panhandlers would have to stay at least an arm's length away and face other new hurdles in their quests for spare change now that the Common Council has unanimously passed a revised law.

It targets what city officials say is a growing number of sidewalk solicitors who use in-your-face tactics. The law has won the backing of Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson, who said he has had firsthand encounters with intimidating panhandlers.

The law would give more teeth to existing restrictions, said Peter Savage III, the Council's legal adviser.

"It prohibits aggressive panhandling in any public place," Savage said.

Aggressive tactics are defined in six categories. Any physical contact would be an offense, even a tap on the shoulder. Panhandlers also would be banned from soliciting within arm's length of anyone without that person's consent.

The new law also would prohibit panhandlers from soliciting anyone inside a vehicle and from asking for money near banks, ATMs, bus shelters or off-street parking areas.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., the bill's sponsor, thinks tougher regulations would prevent many future problems.

First-time offenders could face fines of up to $250, while persistent offenders could face up to 15 days in jail.

Supporters said the law also addresses a nagging question: How does the city expect panhandlers to raise money to pay for fines? Savage said judges could give alternative sentences, including community service work.

The panhandling bill was forwarded to Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Council members also said they want to set up small-scale City Halls in city neighborhoods. The centers would be staffed with building inspectors, police officers and other trouble-shooters who could deal with issues ranging from noise and blighted properties to crime. They could also promote home rehabilitation loans and other programs.

The centers could be situated in old libraries or community centers and could be linked to city computer systems.

All nine Council members sponsored a bill Tuesday calling on Buffalo to look into creating a program similar to those that have been implemented in Rochester, Baltimore, Miami and other cities.

Rochester has Neighborhood Empowerment Teams that work at six offices.

"It's a fantastic setup," said Arthur J. Robinson Jr., president of the Seneca-Babcock Community Block Club. "It provides easier access for people who want to meet with someone from the city."

"It would bring City Hall to the people," said South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, the plan's lead sponsor. "We need to let the public know that neighborhoods matter. Right now, there's some frustration out there."

Intermediate string overflow Cannot justify line The bill has been sent to the Legislation Committee for review.

Lawmakers also took aim at a proposed Bass Pro Shops agreement. As part of the plan to bring the Outdoor World retailer to the downtown waterfront, the state has agreed to give Buffalo $10 million to demolish the old Memorial Auditorium. The Council on Tuesday called on the state to up the ante and provide the city a similar $10 million grant to tear down decaying structures in neighborhoods.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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