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Town of Tonawanda mulls plan to register door-to-door solicitors

People who go door to door in the Town of Tonawanda to solicit for charitable organizations would have to register with the Police Department, under legislation being considered by the Town Board.

A public hearing on amending the local law regulating peddling and soliciting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday in Council Chambers of the Municipal Building.

If approved, charitable organizations would have to provide police the names, addresses and dates of birth of the people who will be soliciting, as well as identify when they'll be out there. Organizations also must provide solicitors identification that could be shown upon demand.

That information would be kept on file in Police Headquarters, as well as forwarded to the department's patrol division.

People under age 18 are exempt.

"It's not a licensing requirement, just a registration requirement," said Deputy Town Attorney John W. Dorn.

"I think it's just a courtesy to us to say, 'Yes, we're coming out there,' " said police Capt. Charles P. Rizzo. There's no fee to register, and no background checks will be done.

Currently, people soliciting for charitable organizations are subject only to time restrictions: Activity is prohibited before 9 a.m. and after 8 p.m. [or a half hour after sunset].

Regulations for solicitors differ from those for peddlers, who must obtain a permit. There's a background check and a $50 permit fee.

The soliciting proposal arose from recent complaints about a young man traveling door to door on behalf of a nonprofit, student-directed research and advocacy group, which is registered as a charitable organization.

Though the group had notified police that it would be in the area, the young man was a trainee and wasn't on a list of participants, Rizzo said. And he wasn't carrying identification.

"We received numerous complaints," Rizzo said.

A call to the young man's supervisor confirmed his identity and purpose, Rizzo said.

"This causes a problem," the captain continued. "I'm very concerned with people walking up and down the driveways of residents of this town."

When an organization registers with the Police Department, "it gives me a chance to talk to the supervisor and let them know what the parameters are for soliciting," Rizzo said.

"If someone tells them they're not interested, they have to leave immediately," the captain said. "We want them to have access to people; we don't want them abusing people."

Violations of peddling and soliciting regulations carry a maximum penalty of a $250 fine and 15 days in jail.