PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–Take a spin around the city and there’s a good chance a stranger with a sign will approach.
In preparation of the NFL Draft just two weeks away Philadelphia police say that they will be enforcing panhandling violations with “compassion” focusing on outreach rather than fines or charges.
But underground panhandling takes a different shape.
“That’s the difference between a sidewalk in the city and a SEPTA subway car. A passenger is trapped, said SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel.
Therefore SEPTA has rolled out new policy to crack down on what they call aggressive panhandling on subway cars.
“We are focusing on the people who cause fear in our riders,” said Nestel.
Though city police act separately from SEPTA police in their enforcement, both do have various policies that prohibit soliciting and blocking sidewalks or traffic.
“For most panhandlers in the city there is no crime involved. They are simply asking for handouts,” said Philadelphia Attorney Paul Messing.
Messing specializes in cases involving the homeless and argues that panhandling is largely a right protected by the First Amendment.
“What isn’t considered protected is conduct that is criminal in nature if someone uses or threatens to use force for you to give them a contribution,” adds Messing.
SEPTA tells Eyewitness News that citations and possible arrests would only follow a panhandlers repeated refusals for help through social assistance programs.