One of the recurring arguments in the debate over City Council member Tim Burgess's proposed aggressive solicitation ordinance is that it's unnecessary to add a new level of penalty. The city already has a criminal statute on the books for aggressive begging; Burgess's proposal would add a civil fine and spell out the various scenarios in which a violator could get a ticket. But some say the solution for making downtown feel safer is, not a new penalty, but more officers on foot patrol in problem spots.

ACLU of Washington spokesman Doug Honig says the aggressive solicitation ordinance should be dropped entirely. “More tools that are used to harass homeless people is not a solution for public safety concerns downtown,” he says. He supports Burgess's proposal for more uniformed police patrols and social services (although this bill would not provide those).

Meanwhile, ACLU deputy director Jennifer Shaw has released a brief report, citing several studies making the case for more uniformed officers and against "ambiguous panhandling laws" (footnotes and links after the jump):

By increasing the number of police officers on foot patrol, cities can drive down petty crime,[1] improve community relationships,[2] and create an overall impression of safety.[3] Police on foot are much more connected to the community they serve than motorized officers.[4] This allows them to more quickly and effectively address quality-of-life issues, such as vandalism, excessive noise, and vagrancy.[5]

Studies have shown that “residents in areas with foot patrol felt safer and less likely to be victimized,” and are “more satisfied with police services.”[6] A greater foot patrol presence often results in fewer complaints about vandalism, vagrancy, public drunkenness and other problems associated with urban areas.[7] Foot patrols have consistently “brightened residents' attitudes about crime and lifted satisfaction in police services.”[8]

In addition to creating a safe and friendly atmosphere for residents, visitors and businesses, patrols are increasingly effective at reducing violent crime. Using 250 officers and targeting 60 violent crime locations, the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment prevented 50 violent crimes during the summer of 2009.[9]

Ambiguous panhandling laws are often difficult to enforce, confusing to follow and ultimately ineffective.[10] By contrast, foot patrols remain a proven method of ensuring that urban areas remain safe and attractive hubs of commerce, tourism and vitality.

[1] Robert Trojanowicz, An Evaluation of the Neighborhood Foot Patrol Program in Flint, Michigan, Michigan State University (1983) (stating that “(c)rime and calls for service were down in the 14 experimental areas over the three years of the program.)

[2] Robert Trojanowicz and Dennis Banas, The Impact of Foot Patrol on Black and White Perceptions of Policing, National Center for Community Policing (1985) (Stating that foot patrols “greatly reduced…the perceptual disparity of police performance” between black and white residents in Flint, Michigan)

[3] Trojanowicz, An Evaluation of the Neighborhood Foot Patrol Program in Flint, Michigan, (stating that “(A)lmost 70 percent (of residents) felt safer” as a result of increased foot patrol.)

[4] Robert Trojanowicz, Perceptions of Safety: A Comparison of Foot Patrol Versus Motor Patrol Officers, National Center for Community Policing (1985) (stating that “(f)oot patrol officers in 1980 and 1984 perceived themselves to be safer than motorized officers.”)

[5] Id. (stating that “(F)oot patrol officers (dealt) with many of the less serious complaints in an informal manner. In other words, complaints about barking dogs, parked cars, broken windows, problems with juveniles, etc., were often dealt with effectively on the spot. The citizen was not forced to make a formal complaint which would have tied up a motorized patrol car…This appears to be a far more effective process… ” ) [no link]

[6] George L. Kelling, et al., The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment, Police Foundation (1981).

[7] Finn-Aage Esbensen, Foot Patrols of What Value?, American Journal of Police (Spring 1987)

[8] Allison Klein, D.C. Police Heeding Calls for Foot Patrols, Washington Post (Jan. 16, 2007) (describing a “highly regarded” study of foot patrols in Newark, NJ)

[9] Research Brief, The Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment, Temple University (Feb. 14, 2010) (noting that increased foot patrols in target areas corresponded with a 22% decrease in violent crime, a 12% decrease in vehicle related crime, a 28 % decrease in drug-related incidents; a 51% increase in pedestrian stops conducted by police; a 33% increase in vehicle stops and traffic enforcement; and a 13 % increase in arrests)

[10] Michael S. Scott, Panhandling, U.S. Dept of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing, Problem Oriented Guides for Police Series, No. 13, at 19 (2002) (stating that “(e)nforcing aggressive-panhandling laws can be difficult,” and that “even when they have the authority to issue citations and release the offenders, most officers realize that panhandlers are unlikely to either appear in court or pay a fine. Prosecutors are equally unlikely to prosecute panhandling cases, typically viewing them as an unwise use of scarce prosecutorial resources…(T)his is the typical scenario: An officer issues a panhandler a summons or citation that sets a court date or specifies a fine. The panhandler fails to appear in court or fails to pay the fine. A warrant is issued for the panhandler's arrest. The police later arrest the panhandler after running a warrant check during a subsequent encounter. The panhandler is incarcerated for no more than a couple of days, sentenced to time already served by the court, and released.”)