The City of Colorado Springs intends to establish a “Solicitation Exclusion Zone,” which would include most of downtown, according to Police Commander Kurt Pillard, who heads the Gold Hill Division, which includes downtown.
Pillard said that individuals who have been convicted of aggressive panhandling will be barred from the zone for a year. Such individuals, once identified, would be subject to immediate arrest if found within the boundaries of the zone.
Such exclusion zones are already in place to combat prostitution on South Nevada and East Platte avenues. These zones, which have been in existence for several years, have substantially reduced street prostitution and solicitation since being established, Pillard said.
The program would be similar to one that was put in place several years ago, Pillard said. At that time, about 20 transients were identified as “aggressive panhandlers” and, through a court process similar to that contemplated for the Exclusion Zone, barred from the downtown area.
Pillard said that all those individuals have left the Pikes Peak Region.
“We’ll be working with the City Attorney’s Office to establish the program, and put together a list [of individuals],” Pillard said.
He said that the zone would be in place “soon.”
The City Attorney’s Office did not return calls from the Business Journal prior to the paper’s deadline.
Panhandlers, transients and single homeless men have long been cited by downtown retailers, restaurateurs and businesspeople as a major obstacle to downtown revitalization.
Despite any positive economic effects that the exclusion zone might create, Alan Chen, professor of law at University of Denver, believes the practice, if initiated, could raise several Constitutional issues.
“In limited circumstances, the government can limit the places people can go, but this sounds too broad,” he said.
For instance, Chen said the police can get an injunction against a specific person who might cause harm to another specific person. Also, buildings can be secured against the general public.
“But a sidewalk?” he asked. “I’ve never seen anything like that in this context. In general, it certainly seems to raise some Constitutional questions.”
However, downtown merchants seemed more inclined to welcome the plan.
“I think it’s a great plan, but how are they going to control it?” asked Jeanne Galvin, who owns clothier Mt. Tejon.
Galvin said she has never heard any of her customers complain about panhandlers, “but do I know if it’s kept people from even coming in? No, I don’t know.”
Robin Johannes, co-owner of Johannes Hunter Jewelers was ecstatic about the proposal.
“Halle-flippin’-lujah,” she said. “It’s about time.”
While she admitted that the exclusion zone is an extreme measure, she said it’s relative to how extreme the downtown panhandling problem has become.
“Most people are not comfortable with being approached by people asking for money, and women especially aren’t,” she said. “I think the absolute best plan they ever had for downtown was when they talked about moving the soup kitchen, but now they’re building a bigger one down here.”
Johannes said she’s seen people pass up parking spots on Tejon Street because panhandlers were present.
Laszlo Palos, general manager Terra Verde, said he is all for an exclusion zone.
“I just think there should be a zero tolerance policy,” he said.
Joan Johnson, Rob Larimer and Amy Gillentine contributed to this story.