We commend the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety for the way officers are dealing with the few incidents that occur here.
We also encourage those who truly need help to apply for food stamps and to contact local agencies such as Love INC or The Salvation Army instead of holding signs at area intersections.
It’s troubling for motorists who would really like to help, but remember reading or hearing about how some panhandlers drive away in new cars when they leave their locations. Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke said his officers recently followed a panhandler and found him getting into a shiny new pickup truck.
It is against the city ordinance to panhandle in Grand Haven, but a recent court ruling in a Grand Rapids case said it is unconstitutional to arrest someone for panhandling.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids ruled that the law violated the First Amendment. This was affirmed last August by a federal appeals court, but may be appealed further.
The Grand Haven ordinance states that it is unlawful for any person to accost, molest, beg, panhandle or willfully annoy another person.
Hawke said his department occasionally receives reports of panhandlers. Grand Haven officers who respond seek to determine what type of assistance the person may need — shelter, food, transportation or something else.
Once the need is determined, officers make contact on behalf of the person in need with community agencies and organizations that provide assistance. Officers may also provide direct assistance, such as transportation to a shelter.
If the officer determines that the person is not truly in need, they are asked to discontinue the activity and a warning is issued for violating the city ordinance. If the activity continues, the person could be cited for the ordinance violation, Hawke said.
Hawke is quick to add that there is a line between accosting, approaching, molesting and willfully annoying someone — as stated in the ordinance — versus peacefully and silently holding a sign.
Each case and incident must be evaluated independently and appropriate discretion applied for those that need and are seeking assistance.
The Grand Haven Department of Public Safety is watching closely as the Grand Rapids case progresses through the court system.
Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.