Harrisonburg Passes Ordinance Against Aggressive Panhandling

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- People who aggressively beg for money in Harrisonburg can now be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor as the city is cracking down on panhandlers.

The City of Harrisonburg passed an ordinance banning aggressive panhandling Tuesday night.

Some people shared their negative experiences with panhandlers.

One woman actually had a person get into her car and say, "Hey! Give me a ride to the north end of town." Others have been approached near banks.

Now, approaching anyone within 30 feet of any bank or ATM during business hours is against the law.

Lauren Penrod, the owner of the Midtowne Market, has had to ban people, who beg for money, from coming into her store.

"Following customers to their car or following people home or knocking on car windows," said Penrod, "They had bought beer from my store before and you know I've had to kick them out of the store multiple times."

It seems like panhandling is a common complaint. Police have received 22 ECC calls from January to March about panhandling; some of those call were aggressive.

Officer John Langhans said now there will be consequences to aggressive panhandling.

"Certainly most reasonable people, if a stranger gets into their car it's gonna put them in fear," said Langhans, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Panhandlers who were known to frequent the Pure Gas Station downtown have been served trespass notices. A worker said panhandlers would get liquor and drink there.

Jeff Hill, the owner of the Local Chop and Grill, said that issue is affecting his business.

The restaurant has also received complaints from customers who have walked to the parking lot after eating and have been hassled by panhandlers.

"For somebody that is not as familiar with downtown, that could be a very scary thing," said Penrod.

With this new law, supporters say the point isn't to block first amendment rights; instead, it's to keep the city safe and free of threatening behavior.

Police say panhandlers are not just in the downtown area and that to be considered aggressive, a person would have to do something such as touch someone or follow the person.

If convicted of being aggressive, that person could land in jail.

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