Joliet wants to keep panhandlers off roadways

Plainfield, too, has begun citing panhandlers for being in the street

Joliet Police Chief William Evans shares a few words after being officially introduced as the new Joliet Police Chief at the Joliet City Council Meeting. Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2022, in Joliet.

Joliet plans to police the presence of panhandlers in city roadways, officials said this week.

Police Chief Bill Evans said he plans a new enforcement program and would like to see a public service campaign advising motorists of other ways to give to the needy than responding to street solicitation.

“I’d like to initiate an enforcement effort citing panhandlers in the roadway, which is dangerous to say the least,” Evans said at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Panhandlers often set up on sidewalks or in medians at city intersections but also walk up and down the street when cars are stopped at red lights carrying signs requesting money.

In Plainfield, police this month began citing panhandlers for obstructing traffic after getting complaints from residents.

Panhandling is legal, which officials in both Joliet and Plainfield acknowledged. But officials said they can cite panhandlers when they are in the roadways posing a safety hazard.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk raised the issue at the Tuesday council meeting, noting complaints he has received about panhandlers at several city intersections.

“Pedestrians can’t be in the roadway,” O’Dekirk said. “We can’t arrest them for that, but they can be cited.”

Joliet was among several Illinois cities targeted in 2018 by the American Civil Liberties Union for having unconstitutional laws on the books prohibiting panhandling.

A Joliet city attorney at the time said the local panhandling law was no longer enforced but emphasized the city would take action against panhandlers obstructing traffic. An ACLU attorney said such enforcement was fair to prevent dangerous conduct but not if linked to a panhandler’s request for help.

Plainfield Mayor John Argoudelis said panhandlers were cited there earlier this month for being on the roadway and obstructing traffic.

Newly installed Mayor John Argoudelis delivers a speech to trustees, staff and Plainfield community members on Monday, May 3, 2021, at Plainfield City Hall in Plainfield, Ill. Argoudelis assumed office during a village trustees meeting on Monday night.

“Hopefully they get the message and leave town,” Argoudelis said.

Argoudelis said the village cannot tell the panhandlers to stop soliciting money because the activity is protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment. But the village can monitor panhandling, he said.

Joliet City Manager James Capparelli said he believed the city could take public safety measures to control panhandling.

“You can put safety guidelines in place because you don’t want people in the middle of the street getting run over,” Capparelli said.

Evans said that in addition to citing panhandlers who are in city roadways, he would like signs set up to “remind people there are other alternatives to giving money to panhandlers on the street.”

He said the signs would be a “public service campaign” that could be used to inform people about organizations in the city that provide services for people in need.