Flagstaff Cops No Longer Arresting People for Begging

Police in Flagstaff will no longer be arresting people for the "crime" of begging.

Thanks to a lawsuit filed against the city earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, begging will no longer be a crime.

See also:
-Flagstaff Cops Arrest 135 People in a Year for Panhandling

According to the local paper of record, the Arizona Daily Sun, the city agreed to settle the lawsuit, and it's been approved by the city council.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit after 135 arrests in one year for "loitering to beg," including the arrest of a disabled 4-foot-8, 77-year-old woman asking an undercover cop for $1.25 to cover a bus fare, according to the suit.

A 2008 article in the Sun described why police started busting panhandlers, in an effort to get "alcoholic transients off the street earlier in the day."

The "loitering to beg" arrests rely on a state law criminalizing asking for money or food in public, which the ACLU contends is unconstitutional on free-speech grounds.

"This statutory provision selectively criminalizes requests for money or food," the lawsuit states. "A solicitation to vote for a candidate or attend a meeting, join an organization or eat at a particular restaurant, delivered in the same manner and tone as that for money would not result in arrest or prosecution under the provision."

The ACLU alleged the law "criminalizes protected speech and prohibits a substantial amount of protected speech."

It doesn't look like there was much disagreement there.

Attorney General Tom Horne reportedly agreed that begging itself is an act of free speech.

In addition to the small elderly woman mentioned above, the ACLU also represented a man named Andrew Wilkinson, who claims he was threatened with arrest in 2012 after asking to eat someone's leftovers, and Robert George Jr., a military vet who claims to go hungry out of fear of going to jail for asking. The ACLU also represented a collective called Food Not Bombs, as several of its members claim to have been threatened with arrest for requesting donations to feed the hungry.

According to Capitol Media Services' report, it appears that the state law will be voided in its entirety.

Send feedback and tips to the author.
Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley