COLONIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — You may have seen them hanging around in the medians, in store parking lots, even at the airport. Colonie Town Attorney Mike Magguilli says there’s been a huge spike in panhandling complaints over the last four weeks.
“It seemed like they built up till a week or two ago, we were just getting complaints five or six a day, which is a lot,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“On the Richter scale of public complaints, I would put it at an eight,” he goes on to say.
Magguilli says people all over Colonie have been calling, scared after some panhandlers got aggressive when they didn’t hand over their money, but also over refusing to social distance.
“Some of the panhandlers were actually approaching the cars, knocking on the windows. We had some complaints at the airport where people were being approached in the parking garage at night,” he says.
He says local law enforcement is working to look into where the sudden crowds of panhandlers are coming from.
“It is unusual, because Colonie never had a problem to this extent before. There are some law-enforcement officials that say these are organized groups and that they target a municipality, stay there for a certain period of time, and then move on,” he explains of the ongoing investigation.
Magguilli says he and the town board drafted a new law that was presented at Thursday night’s meeting. It would prevent soliciting, following someone, intimidation, or blocking their safe passage. The law would kick in for any panhandler that comes within six feet of another person.
“I think it’s the first aggressive panhandling law in the state that incorporates concerns raised by the coronavirus into the panhandling statute,” Magguilli explains.
He adds Colonie has taken guidance from panhandling statutes from across the state and country, such as adding panhandling of any spoken or written form be prohibited within 20 feet of a bank or ATM.
“Think about it, when you’re at a teller machine, your back is to the public. You’re focused on protecting your pin so no one will see it, so you’re focused down. Having someone, particularly a stranger, approach you from behind can be a very scary situation for most people,” Magguilli says.
Violators could get anything from a $25 to $250 fine and 15 days in jail, but Magguilli says the town will opt first for warnings and pushing folks in the direction of local services.
“Our thinking is this, with so many public and non profit programs and services out there in this day and age, there should be no need for panhandling. If Colonie and other municipalities enforce these types of laws or made it difficult to panhandle, then possibly these people panhandling would be forced to go get the help that they need,” he explains.
He says there will still be a public comment period for folks to share their thoughts until a public hearing on the proposed law August 13.