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Cops ordered to stop ticketing panhandlers

Posted at 11:23 AM, Sep 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-30 13:23:34-04

In a major reversal, police in Colorado Springs are being ordered to stop issuing citations to people begging on the side of the road.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the Colorado Springs Police Department has issued over 900 citations for panhandling since 2013, under the ordinances titled "Soliciting on or Near Street or Highway" and "Solicitation Prohibited."

The CSPD issued a sweeping department bulletin instructing its officers to “discontinue issuing summonses" after the ACLU submitted a complaint Sept. 14.

The ACLU claims at least 90 percent of the tickets were issued for conduct that did not violate the ordinances, such as holding a sign that invites charity from passersby.

The department's bulletin also makes clear that "passive solicitation is lawful everywhere in the City."

"The Police Department and the City Attorney have now acknowledged that they have been citing, prosecuting and convicting innocent persons," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director.

"As the police bulletin emphasizes, persons who solicit charity by passively displaying a sign inviting donations are not violating the City’s panhandling ordinances," Silverstein continued.

Silverstein said the police bulletin is a welcome first step, but more remains to be done.

"The City Attorney’s Office must also dismiss all pending prosecutions against persons who were merely displaying a sign," said Silverstein. "In addition, it must also take steps to undo erroneously-entered convictions and sentences, including pending jail, fines or probation, that were imposed on persons who were merely holding a sign inviting charity."