Sarasota PD backing off from panhandlers - WFLA News Channel 8

Sarasota PD backing off from panhandlers

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SARASOTA COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

The city of Sarasota has decided to back off of panhandlers on street corners.

The city has agreed to a judicial order stopping police from interfering with the first amendment rights of the homeless.

You could say they're locals who make a living on the streets, and for at least the next 60 days, the city has agreed to leave them alone.

ACLU Attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen said, "Every single citizen has a right to free speech. That includes homeless people that are conveying to their fellow citizens that they are in need."

The city has filed a consent decree, agreeing to a judge's order to allow panhandlers their first amendment rights.

Sarasota Police Captain Paul Sutton said, "We don't write the laws, we just enforce them."

Sutton says his officers will not arrest or stop panhandlers with signs. He said, "The immediate change is you're [going to] see a lot more people with signs standing in the medians or along the roadways."

One thing all sides can agree on- methods need to be found to help the area homeless.

Sutton said, "I know other jurisdictions have dealt with similar issues, and so I think it would be reasonable to look at other jurisdictions and see what ordinances they came up with to address this issue."

Mogensen said, "Maybe we should look at some services and a helping hand rather than hand cuffs."

Captain Sutton says the city will be looking at options to handle this situation over the course of this 60-day injunction.

The city now faces another lawsuit regarding the homeless in the city.

City attorney Bob Fournier says a lawsuit has been filed against the city by Citizens for Sunshine.

An ACLU official said the lawsuit alleges the Sarasota city manager held meetings to discuss the homeless issue, and these meetings were held in violation of the Florida Sunshine laws.

Fournier agrees and says the case will likely be shut down.

Fournier said he had spoken with the city manager about these meetings, and Fournier was left with the understanding the meetings were following the law. Fournier says he took the city manager at his word and didn't know these meetings were in violation of the Florida sunshine laws.

Fournier says it is up to the city commissioners to decide whether the city manager will be reprimanded.

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