Beckley Police Officer describes legality of panhandling

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BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — “Homeless veteran, anything helps.” “Family of four, just lost job.” These are just some of the sayings we might see written in sharpie on cardboard signs as we pull up to a stop light.

Panhandling is common, especially in cities like Beckley. But is it legal?

Lt. Dave Allard with the Beckley Police Department explained the law.

“There’s no one size fits all, blanket policy. We have to look at each individual case that we get to determine if it is illegal,” Allard said.

In the city of Beckley, there are multiple ordinances that mention ‘soliciting money.’ One says “‘soliciting money–permit required.’ Another says ‘Begging as habitual occupation prohibited.’

Although there are ordinances against the act of panhandling, Allard said it is not enforced by Beckley Police.

“It’s been pretty much ruled by courts throughout the country to be legal, first ammendment protected speech,” Allard said.

Other people fined or arrested for panhandling in other parts of the state have taken the decision to court, and every time the court ruled in the panhandler’s favor. That is why officers no longer enforce the ordinance.

Allard said there are some cases where law enforcement intervenes.

“If you block a roadway, you obstruct the view of traffic, you’re within the intersection,” Allard explained.

Overall, Beckley Police just wants to keep both the person panhandling and the community safe.

“We realize that sometimes it’s the people that are really struggling, down on their luck, homeless or drug addicted that are ones doing this. And us taking enforcement action against them only makes that worse. So, we really want to look at their safety,” Allard said.

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