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Open records request: Street solicitation ordinance yields two citations since May
By: Bill Melugin
EL PASO, Texas --
El Paso's controversial street solicitation ordinance has been in effect since May, and a KFOX14 open records request reveals that as of Aug. 22, the ordinance has only yielded two citations for a total of $89 in fines.
As KFOX14 previously reported, the ordinance bans solicitation from a median or within 15 feet of a street corner. It also prohibits drivers from making donations or buying items from minors under the age of 12 who are on street corners or medians. Drivers are also banned from buying or donating items from their vehicles, and aggressive solicitation is prohibited in public places, including near bank ATMs.
Violators of the ordinance can be cited, or charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine.
With such a low number of citations given out, KFOX14 spoke to the city and the El Paso Police Department about the feasibility of enforcement.
City representative Emma Acosta told KFOX14 the ordinance is difficult for officers to enforce for numerous reasons.
"One of the things that happens is in order for a police officer to give you a citation, you must have a mailing address, or a place of residence. Many of the solicitors out in their community are homeless, so where are they going to be issued the citation?" Acosta said. "It's almost impossible for a police officer to issue a citation to somebody who has no ID; the only thing they do is warn them, and ask them to move out of the areas that they're not allowed in, like an intersection."
Sgt. Chris Mears, a public information officer with EPPD, told KFOX14 that due to initial issues with municipal court records, he believes there have been more citations given out than just two, but said there are many factors that come into play.
"We do have to have certain information on an individual before we can issue that person a citation, and that should make sense to everyone these days, with identity theft and everything that's going on out there. We're not going to issue a citation without knowing positively who that person is," Mears said. "When you're dealing with homeless individuals, it can be difficult to meet that threshold."
Mears said officers will often give verbal warnings rather than citations, but they also have the option to arrest violators and jail them.
"We want people to comply with the ordinance. So with compliance being the goal, if we can get voluntary compliance that's even better, it's a win-win for everyone -- we get the people off the dangerous parts of the streets, and we haven't ruined anyone's day by giving them a citation," Mears said.
KFOX14 captured video of an EPPD squad car driving right by two solicitors in the middle of an intersection without taking any action.
Mears said to not read too much into that.
"We have to prioritize our time; an individual officer out in the field has to make the decision," Mears said. "Part of it is, what is the officer doing at that time, is he free? Meaning he's not assigned to a call? He's not responding to a burglary or family fight or whatever, does he have some free time, or is he responding to a call that's a higher priority? If it's a higher-priority call, it's obviously more important to get that officer to the scene of the family fight, to the accident, to the burglary, than it is for him to stop and talk to the solicitor."