Some Dallas council members feel blindsided after Dallas police announced they would no longer enforce the city’s aggressive panhandling laws.
One city ordinance allows officers to arrest someone who is considered to be panhandling aggressively and the city has certain panhandling free zones.
Police Chief Renee Hall claimed on Monday making arrests and giving tickets put the city at risk of lawsuits. There were some heated moments as Hall was questioned by council members.
The change goes back to New Year’s Eve, when officers were given directives to enforce a state law and city code on panhandling. But the directives left out tougher rules imposed by the city targeting aggressive panhandlers -- and certain zones where panhandling of any kind is illegal.
"I did not feel the communication from city staff and DPD was sufficient to give me a heads up that there would be a major change in enforcement policy. And I do think this is a major change in enforcement policy,” said councilman Philip Kingston, whose district includes part of downtown Dallas.
The president of the Dallas Police Association said the biggest issue right now is confusion among the rank and file.
"We just need to know what we can do and what we can't do,” said DPA President Mike Mata.
Hall explained she felt the need to act quickly to protect the city from litigation -- even though there is no indication of a pending lawsuit.
"I'll take responsibility for not having dialogue, directly, but at the end of the day, when there is a police concern, concerns officers, department and jeopardizing this city, I took the initiative as the Chief to make those decisions, and going forward we will make sure everyone is informed,” Hall said.
Federal courts have recently struck down panhandling ordinances in several U.S. cities based on a 2015 Supreme Court ruling.
The public safety committee will take up panhandling enforcement again in February and is looking at ways to create a public awareness campaign.