A new Wentzville ordinance will give more guidance to the police and municipal court in dealing with aggressive begging. City documents say that the new law was proposed because of citizen complaints about beggars at businesses and along roadways and exit ramps.
Aggressive begging is defined in the new ordinance as approaching or speaking to a person “in such a manner as would cause a reasonable person to believe” that he or she is being threatened with imminent bodily injury or a criminal act.
Examples include persisting after being declined, blocking someone’s way or touching them without consent, or trying to intimidate or force a donation. The new ordinance also covers actions such as washing, guarding, or repairing a vehicle without the owner’s permission and then asking for money.
City attorney Jim Hetlage said that the ordinance was worded to stand up to constitutional challenge. It does not include simply standing with a sign. “If there’s just a sign with no vocal appeal, we don’t consider it to constitute begging,” Hetlage said.
Begging is specifically banned:
- In public roadways or right-of-ways, or within 50 feet of a crosswalk
- Near ATMs
- In outdoor dining areas
- Within 50 feet of schools, bus stops, and cab stands
- In city buildings, parks, and playgrounds
- On private property without the owner’s permission
Upon first violation of the ordinance, the subject will be issued a warning ticket, and for a second incident, a summons and a fine of not less than $50. Third and subsequent violations could cost the subject a fine and 30 days imprisonment.
Wentzville Police Chief Kurt Frisz said that officers generally try to help the person in need. “Most of the time, we get compliance. We get them to a location that’s safer and try to get them some help.”
The ordinance will not affect charitable organizations that solicit donations.