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Police, Westside citizens join in effort to discourage
people giving to panhandlers

       Signs alerting people to the drawbacks of giving money to panhandlers are being posted in the downtown and being made available to entities on the Westside.
       The signs were created by the Colorado Springs Police Department, with input from the Avenue Task Force (ATF). An ad hoc group formed two years ago, the ATF includes Westside residents who work with law enforcement and elected officials to reduce crime along the West Colorado Avenue corridor.
       Unveiled at a recent ATF meeting, the signs come in two rectangular sizes - one 18 inches high, the other one 12 inches. Both bear the messages “It's OK to say no” and “Aggressive solicitation prohibited.”
       A graphic on the larger version shows someone in a car reaching through a car window to give a person cash. A red circle is around the graphic, with a diagonal red line across it in the universal negation symbol.
       On the smaller sign, a similar red line runs across a different graphic - one that displays a piece of paper money next to a hand clutching what could be an alcoholic drink.
       The term, “aggressive solicitation,” refers to people using physical or verbal intimidation when they seek a handout.
       The sign plan was motivated by city findings that panhandlers frequently use handouts to buy liquor or drugs. This can lead to their becoming incapacitated and requiring emergency treatment at taxpayer expense.
       Downtown merchants have frequently complained that vagrancy hurts business, and two years ago they won City Council approval for a law (later ruled unconstitutional) to curb panhandling in a defined downtown area.
       The plan is for citizen members of the ATF to seek permission from private property owners to put up the signs at strategic Westside locations.
       The sign costs are $35 for the larger size and $15 for the smaller.
       Like the signs, the panhandling video was also unveiled at the March ATF meeting. ATF members hope to have a finalized version that will eventually run on local public TV channels.
       The video includes testimony about aggressive panhandling experiences from two members of the ATF - Mary Gallivan and Bonnie Lapora. “It's sometimes very frightening,” Gallivan said. “Some of these people are intoxicated or on drugs.”
       Also on the video, City Councilmember (now President) Merv Bennett advises citizens that the “best way to stop panhandling is to quit giving money to them. This is a community that's very giving and philanthropic, but those gifts are better used for those organizations in town that can provide strategic and helpful care.”

Westside Pioneer article