Lingering on a road median in Phoenix can now mean a possible fine or jail time, but police are required to give first-time warnings to offenders.
In an apparent effort to limit a dangerous form of panhandling, the Phoenix City Council last week passed an ordinance that bans pedestrians from hanging out in the middle of a street. Designated as an "emergency," it took effect immediately, and enforcement begins this week.
Hanging out on Phoenix street corners and sidewalks to beg for donations for motorists, advertise a car wash, or whatever you want to do, is still legal. But pedestrians can no longer legally "stop or remain" in the part of the road meant for vehicles, or in a "painted or raised traffic island or median" designed only for people to use while waiting for traffic to clear.
Offenders caught staying in a median will first be issued a field card, says Phoenix police Lieutenant Matt Giordano. Police will take down the person's identifying information after giving a lesson on the new ordinance.
Once cops know an offender has had a warning, the next encounters won't go as easily. But police have already been letting panhandlers and others know what was coming.
"We did a week-long education campaign," Giordano says. "We tell people, 'It is very dangerous to do what you're doing.'"
The lieutenant wasn't aware of anyone who died because of stopping or staying in a road median. But it doesn't take much imagination to realize the potential danger.
Last year, the city's transportation department recorded 40 instances of signal light poles in medians being knocked down by cars.
Many of the people standing in medians are begging for money, Giordano acknowledges. Police worked with social-service agencies to figure out how to best handle enforcement, resulting in the warning being built-in to the ordinance. If a repeat offender appears to be mentally ill, police will try to get them help, he says. Others, he knows, "will openly disobey" the ordinance.
Once a person receives a warning, the next offense could come with a citation and fine of up to $250. After that, subject to an officer's discretion, the offender could be arrested and charged with a serious misdemeanor.
One man looking for a handout on the off-ramp of Interstate 10 and Jefferson Street says he heard about the new rule: "Stay off the median -- yup, I know that!"
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