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City Tightens Solicitation Codes

by Valerie Garner

Starting immediately there will be a lower tolerance for aggressive solicitation in downtown Roanoke. Solicitation for money or anything of value in an aggressive manner could lead to a class 2 misdemeanor according to Chief Chris Perkins of the Roanoke City Police Department.

At Monday’s city council briefing Chief Perkins told council that aggressive solicitation would be difficult to prove. A witness would be required to swear out a warrant and prove that the aggressor either blocked their path or put their hands on them.

An increase in complaints has led the city to add to its existing code. The new code establishes a 25-foot buffer prohibiting solicitation adjacent to outdoor dining or from any line where the public waits for admission to a place of assembly. “When people are in these captive situations they should not have to be subjected to aggressive behavior,” said Chief Perkins.

Staff met with social service providers that included the Rescue Mission, RAM House, and Total Action against Poverty. Downtown Roanoke Inc. and the police department reviewed the new regulations.

“With Roanoke City being the largest urban area west of Richmond and north of Knoxville we do tend to be a city where people are traveling through … and getting money before they move on. They are not necessarily homeless,” said Assistant City Manager Brian Townsend.

City Code was first established in 1980 and expanded in 2001 to establish distances from banks and financial institutions including automated teller machines. It prohibits aggressive solicitation in public areas, posted private property, and public transportation vehicles and stops or stations.

Downtown businesses have complained that unwelcome solicitation has kept customers from enjoying their outdoor dinning experience. Townsend suggested that patrons consider responding to solicitation by giving directly to organizations that provide the needed services.

In response to a question by council member Anita Price, Chief Perkins explained that the consequences to violating the new rules could be a maximum of six months in jail and a $1500 fine. However, a judge has discretion and could simply direct the violator on where to obtain services or order them to leave the area.

Perkins reiterated that, “it is not a homeless issue … the overwhelming majority choose this as an action to gain money. There’s really no change in the way the police department responds to the call.”

At the 2:00 p.m. council meeting the vote was unanimous to enact the new solicitation rules.

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