13 investigation: 911 calls reveal panhandling problems

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13 investigation: 911 calls reveal panhandling problems story image
PORTLAND (WGME) - Panhandling in Portland has been the focus of debate in the city for years. Recently a judge ruled an ordinance banning panhandlers in the medians is unconstitutional. Now a CBS 13 investigation gets the past two years of calls to police, even 911, about panhandlers in the medians.

We obtained a log with 17 pages of complaints from callers. The complaints include people in medians kicking cars, falling over into traffic, and yelling and swearing at people as they pass by.

The dispatch log we analyzed for this investigation shows dispatchers get several calls a month from drivers concerned or scared by panhandlers in the median. Some of the callers report things like a panhandler "reached into car and punched caller." And "a male started yelling at caller to give him a (expletive) dollar." Another caller reports a male "kicked the car and spit on it."

There are concerns for the panhandlers, too.

911 callers tell dispatchers "male is very drunk, concerned that he will fall into traffic" and that another man "fell off the island a few times."

There's also a call about "transients stepping in the road getting money almost causing huge accident."

"It's a major public safety concern, and one we're forced to deal with on a daily basis. Whenever you have someone teetering on a median strip that may be a foot wide in rush hour traffic in rainy days, snowy days; we've all seen them out there. It's a concern, and I don't want to see anyone get hurt," Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck told us in June.

Chief Sauschuck said he couldn't do an interview with us for this story because the city is considering appealing a judge's recent decision which found the median ordinance unconstitutional and a violation of free speech. Sauschuck sent us a statement saying, "Safety has always been our primary concern."

Lawyers for the ACLU insist panhandling in medians is a free speech issue. In response to the dispatch calls, they've said laws already exist to protect drivers and pedestrians. Again, the city is considering appealing the decision calling the ban unconstitutional. We'll let you know what happens.13 investigation: 911 calls reveal panhandling problems
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