Kennewick panhandling restrictions effective, police say

Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg says recent changes in city code banning panhandling at certain busy Kennewick intersections has had the intended result.

The new law has cut down on the practice in the areas where it was not safe for motorists or panhandlers. "It's been very effective," Hohenberg said.

Word has spread that panhandling is not permitted in certain parts of Kennewick, he said.

The ban on solicitation within 250 feet of the intersections of Highway 395 and Kennewick Avenue, Highway 395 and Clearwater Avenue and Columbia Drive and Washington Street went into effect toward the end of February.

The Kennewick City Council unanimously approved the ordinance intended to give police more tools to deal with panhandlers when there is a safety risk.

Those intersections were singled out because there is no safe place for vehicles to pull to the side and interact with a solicitor, officials said.

They also were locations where Kennewick police received the most complaints about panhandling, Hohenberg said.

The ban also applies within 25 feet of an ATM or a financial institution on Columbia Center Boulevard between Clearwater and Arrowhead avenues and on 27th Avenue between Highway 395 and South Quillan Street.

Aggressive solicitations such as knocking on vehicle windows or intruding into someone's personal space, soliciting in those restricted areas and intentionally obstructing traffic or pedestrians will be considered misdemeanors.

Hohenberg said police continue to first ask panhandlers if they need any assistance. There are a host of agencies in the community that offer help, he said.

But more often than not, panhandlers want cash -- and not necessarily for the reason they proclaim on a sign, Hohenberg said. Then, officers will warn them that they are panhandling in a restricted zone.

It's not against the law to beg, Hohenberg said. But when people are aggressive or assertive they can become intimidating and this can result in calls to police, he said.

Hohenberg said he is not aware of any arrests under the new law as the warnings have been sufficient.

Officers record those they have warned in the department's computer system, Hohenberg said. This allows them to determine whether someone has been warned before.

Hohenberg said one area police may ask the city council to consider adding to the restricted zones is Edison Street at the corners of Clearwater Avenue and Canal Drive.

Both areas see a high volume of traffic and lack a shoulder where a motorist can safely pull over when there is panhandling, Hohenberg said. Police will continue to monitor those areas.

The council told the police they did not want to displace safety concerns with panhandling from one part of the city to another. Hohenberg said the council would need to approve an amendment to the Kennewick Municipal Code to add any areas to the restricted zones for panhandling.