City to pay thousands for enforcing panhandling ordinance

The city has agreed to pay thousands after a District Court judge determined Albuquerque Police violated a court order prohibiting officers from enforcing the controversial panhandling ordinance.

Police have been kept from enforcing the ordinance since February while a federal court determines whether it is constitutional.

Public documents show two APD officers cited people asking for money on medians or freeway off-ramps more than 10 times in May and June.

“For officers to continually enforce the [ordinance] — it’s a pretty egregious violation,” ACLU staff attorney Maria Martinez Sanchez said.

The city agreed to pay $7,500 to the nonprofit Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, and dismiss all of the citations handed out under the ordinance.    

The police department is also required under the agreement with the ACLU to send a memo from the police chief to all APD officers to remind them not to enforce the ordinance.

The memo, dated July 3, states officers cannot ask people to leave any public place including medians or corners, and cannot arrest or charge anyone for panhandling.

The ACLU first filed a lawsuit against the city in January, claiming the panhandling ordinance was unconstitutional.

Tuesday, APD issued the following statement:

The City agreed with the other parties to the lawsuit not to enforce the Ordinance in February 2018. We recently learned that APD officers issued 35 citations that we know of  under the Ordinance after we had agreed not to enforce it. After we learned this, we made sure that all citations issued under the Ordinance were dismissed. APD is investigating what happened and will disclose its findings after the investigation is complete. However, because APD had not taken adequate steps to ensure the Court order was followed, the City agreed to pay $7,500 to Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless as the sanction for these violations, which the parties agreed was the best use for this money. The City also issued a special order directing all APD officers not to enforce the Ordinance until the Court rules on the case, and notified the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court about the agreement not to enforce to ensure no additional citations were prosecuted under the Ordinance. 
 
It is important to note that officers must still enforce other City ordinances and take appropriate action if individuals are committing crimes not related to the Ordinance.
 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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