The Dallas Police Department has directed patrol officers to stop writing citations for so-called "aggressive panhandling," citing legal concerns according to internal correspondence obtained by WFAA.
The move comes after DPD stepped up its fight against aggressive panhandling on sidewalks in early 2016, issuing more than 100 citations in the wake of a number of repeat offenders targeting pedestrians in popular entertainment districts.
DPD officers were directed to no longer write citations for "solicitation by coercion," which is part of a 2007 city of Dallas ordinance that prohibited panhandling after dark and in marked "solicitation free zones" as well as areas near ATM's and gas pumps.
Michael Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, says patrol officers have expressed confusion over the directive.
“It makes our officers look ineffective and it just creates a backlog of calls that we really can't do anything about,” Mata said. "When it all comes down to it, as long as they're not stepping in the roadway, there's not a whole lot we can do.”
Several cities have stopped enforcement of panhandling bans over legal concerns stemming from types of speech restrictions that likely would not stand constitutional muster if challenged in court.
As of now, there has not been a documented legal challenge to the ordinance in Dallas.
We asked the city of Dallas if officers had been ordered not to write citations for aggressive panhandling going forward.
A city spokesperson responded that the city ordinance prohibiting panhandling on a public roadway was still in effect but made no reference to aggressive panhandling.
"The Dallas Police Department is in discussions with the city attorney and has not issued any orders to cease the enforcement," a spokesperson said.
DPD responded that the department is "currently waiting on advisement from the City attorney's office on this matter," according to an email.
The move comes as the city is trying to pivot towards a program that focuses on those that give to panhandlers.
"Give Right Dallas" is designed to incentive charitable giving through designated re-purposed parking meters in Deep Ellum, the Forest / Abrams area and Preston Center.
The program was supposed to begin this month but it met resistance from the city council in November over a projected $200,000 cost and lack of emphasis on areas in downtown and South Dallas.
Felecia Myles lives and works in downtown Dallas and says the Central Business District has seen a lot of momentum with an increase in residential growth in recent years.
"I see aggressive panhandling," Myles said. "It's a nuisance."
She admitted she's concerned with the prospect of lack of panhandling enforcement unless someone is standing in the roadway.
"What about the citizens?" she said. "What about the residents downtown?"