MINNEAPOLIS – Panhandlers on Minneapolis' busy street corners may soon carry more than the cardboard signs that spell our their pleas for money. If the police chief has his way, they'll have photo IDs hanging around their necks.
Chief William McManus (search) wants to license panhandlers, saying it would make it easier for officers to manage aggressive begging in Minnesota's largest city. Anyone failing to wear an ID badge would be jailed for 30 days and possibly fined.
McManus said Wednesday that panhandling (search) is a common complaint when he visits with business owners and other civic leaders, whether downtown along upscale Nicollet Avenue or in the city's neighborhoods.
"The idea is not to penalize people or make them go away," he said. "It's just a way to govern how they conduct their business. A badge with their picture on it should make them less likely to engage in aggressive panhandling."
Panhandlers wouldn't have to pay to be licensed, but they would have to register each year at a government center and have their picture taken. The city already bans panhandling in front of cash machines, bus stops and restrooms.
If such a city law were to pass, Minneapolis would join a handful of other cities that license beggars, such as Cincinnati, Dallas and Greensboro, N.C.
McManus said he has talked to City Council members about the idea and hopes they will debate it.
Mayor R.T. Rybak (search) said Wednesday he's not sure if he'll support McManus's plan.
"I'm interested in looking at innovative ways to handle this, but we need to know more about the details," he said.
Robert Yellow Wolf, who stood along an Interstate 94 off-ramp southeast of downtown on Wednesday, said he probably would register for the license, but he called the plan "ridiculous."
"If they say we have to do it, well, we have no say anyway. When you're homeless, you have no say," said Yellow Wolf, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Yellow Wolf said he was struggling to find a job because of a stint in prison for armed robbery and assault.
Last year, the City Council adopted an ordinance that bans aggressive begging, but critics said it hasn't done much to curb the practice.
Thousands of people in the Twin Cities are homeless on any given night, according to shelters and other groups that help them, though only a fraction of them beg for money.
A survey by the Wilder Research Center one evening last October showed 299 people asking for money on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. That represented about 9 percent of the homeless population that night, according to the study.
Greg Owen, the project director for the survey, wouldn't comment specifically on the police chief's idea. However, he said, "You wonder how may people would do that and whether it just adds to their humiliation of being on the street."
Cincinnati's licensing ordinance is being challenged by civil liberties groups who claim begging is protected speech.
A woman who was also asking for money near Yellow Wolf's spot said she wouldn't register for a license.
"It's not right," said Tamie, who would only give her first name. "As soon as you put on a badge, you know the police will see it, and they'll come right over and pick you up."