September 30, 2015
In a remarkable turn of events, the City of Colorado Springs has ordered the Colorado Springs Police Department to immediately stop issuing citations for alleged violations of ordinance 10.18.112, titled “Soliciting on or Near Street or Highway”. It has also forbidden citations for most sections of ordinance of 9.2.111 “Solicitation Prohibited.”
The CSPD issued a sweeping department bulletin instructing its officers to “discontinue issuing summonses for Solicitation on or Near Street or Highway.” The bulletin also makes clear that “passive solicitation is lawful everywhere in the City.”
This action is in response to ACLU concerns outlined in a September 14th letter accusing the City of a widespread pattern of illegal enforcement of the panhandling ordinances against poor and homeless persons who were not in violation of the law.
Since 2013, the CSPD has issued over 900 citations for panhandling. The ACLU charges that at least 90% were issued for conduct that did not violate the ordinances, such as merely holding a sign that invites charity from passersby.
Colorado Springs City Attorney Wynetta Massey responded to the ACLU in a letter outlining the new policy and provided a copy of the revised CSPD bulletin.
“The Police Department and the City Attorney have now acknowledged that they have been citing, prosecuting and convicting innocent persons,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “We appreciate the City’s prompt decision to order police to stop enforcing the panhandling ordinances against persons who are not violating those ordinances.”
“As the police bulletin emphasizes, persons who solicit charity by passively displaying a sign inviting donations are not violating the City’s panhandling ordinances,” Silverstein continued. “Nevertheless, police have been issuing hundreds of citations. Instead of dismissing the tickets, the City Attorney’s office has prosecuted, and the Municipal Court judges have entered convictions and imposed sentences.”
The ACLU’s letter asserted that all three branches of the City’s justice system “played a culpable role in citing prosecuting, convicting and sentencing poor and homeless people, sometimes to jail, for a crime they did not commit.”
Silverstein said the police bulletin is a welcome first step, but more remains to be done. “The City Attorney’s Office must also dismiss all pending prosecutions against persons who were merely displaying a sign. In addition, it must also take steps to undo erroneously-entered convictions and sentences, including pending jail, fines or probation, that were imposed on persons who were merely holding a sign inviting charity.”
Read the ACLU of Colorado’s 9/14/15 letter to Colorado Springs: http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2015-09-14-Massey-ACLU2.pdf
Read Colorado Springs City Attorney Wynetta Massey’s response to the ACLU’s letter: http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2015-09-28-Silverstein-Massey-Response-to-ACLU-letter-of-09-14-15.pdf