Sometimes it takes a law enforcement chief to remind politicians that not every issue needs to be addressed with new rules, a new ordinance or a new law, especially when there isn’t an issue. For the second time in four months, a chief did so before elected officials, slowing down a push for a new ordinance against panhandling in Flagler Beach.
Sheriff Rick Staly had done so before the Flagler County Public Safety Coordinating Council in March, reminding those around the table that deputies shouldn’t be turned into a homeless policing force, especially in the absence of a comprehensive solution to homelessness.
Thursday evening, it was Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney who, with unusual forcefulness before his city commission–his bosses–but also clear-eyed forthrightness, set back a proposal to enact an ordinance against “aggressive panhandling,” which he said does not exist in the city.
“I have never been contacted in my five and a half years of tenure as a police chief about aggressive panhandling,” Doughney told commissioners. “So my recommendation to the board is: let myself and the city attorney come up with verbiage that I’m comfortable with that will not place us in a liability situation, because that’s part of my job is to keep us from getting sued.”
Doughney was speaking about a proposed ordinance that City Attorney Drew Smith drafted at the urging of City Commissioner Eric Cooley, who also owns the 7-Eleven on Oceanshore Boulevard, where he says he occasionally sees aggressive panhandling on the boardwalk or in his store’s vicinity.
But even Cooley was uncomfortable with the proposed ordinance as drafted. He was especially concerned with a section of the ordinance that stated, alarmingly, that “an increase in aggressive panhandling and begging throughout the city has become extremely disturbing and disruptive to residents and businesses and has contributed not only to the loss of access to and enjoyment of public places but also to an enhanced sense of fear, intimidation, and disorder as well as actual danger to the health, safety and welfare of citizens and tourists alike.”
Doughney, too, flagged those lines. “If you were to read this, it would lead a reasonable person,” he said, “to believe that panhandling and begging throughout the city has become extremely disturbing and disruptive. That’s not a true statement.”
“I have never been contacted in my five and a half years of tenure as a police chief about aggressive panhandling.”
Cooley sees the proposed ordinance as a preventive, if not preemptive, measure against the possibility that panhandling would become a problem should poorer people begin to drift down from St. Augustine or up from Daytona Beach, or east from Bunnell, into Flagler Beach. All three of those cities have passed copycat and draconian ordinances in the past 18 months cracking down on homelessness and panhandling. The ordinances prohibit any panhandling after dark, aggressive or not, and any panhandling anywhere near businesses, schools, public taxi or bus stops, ATM machines and the like–again, whether it’s aggressive or not. The ordinances also prohibit “aggressive” panhandling. (Palm Coast rejected drafting a panhandling ordinance last year.)
Cooley didn’t want to be that draconian. The proposed Flagler Beach ordinance addresses only aggressive panhandling, which it defines as demanding money to the point of intimidation, with undue, stalking-like persistence. The proposal says nothing about prohibiting panhandling and it does not set up prohibitive buffer zones, or no-panhandling zones, as do those of the three nearby cities. Even so, commissioners raised issues with the wording even before Doughney did.
“The intent of this is to be a preemptive measure to get a ahead of a problem,” Cooley said. “We have areas around us that have very tough panhandling ordinances in place, we’re almost surrounded by that. This is not to say that, or make a statement that we have a very large problem right now, because we don’t.”
The ordinance’s more alarmist language could be softened and made more conditional, Smith and other commissioners agreed. But Doughney was uncomfortable with the approach. “Soliciting and panhandling have first amendment rights, and when it comes to people’s rights, I use the words ‘tread lightly,'” he told commissioners–twice. He said state laws already give law enforcement authority to address the issue, at least in part. A state law forbids anyone from impeding traffic, including panhandlers in roadways. They could be arrested for doing so. Aggression is also addressed: Touching or physical contact is battery, an arrestable offense, Doughney said, as is assault. “If somebody gets in somebody’s face and leads them to believe that a physical contact or the threat of violence is imminent,” the chief said, “that’s an assault and they can be arrested. So again the two words I would use would be tread lightly, and let myself and the city attorney come up with some verbiage because as I see it right now I don’t see panhandling as a problem in the city of Flagler Beach.”
Commissioner Kim Carney asked him about cities that have adopted panhandling ordinances. Doughney was aware, but also adamant: “I don’t think w e should adopt an ordinance if we don’t have a problem.”
“Not even for future use?” Carney asked.
“No,” Doughney said. “There are ordinances on the books and there are state statutes on the books,” the chief said, “but that’s also your decision. If you want to put one in there that we could utilize in the future, I would rather do it when it’s reworded or something that I was more comfortable with. Because ultimately the law enforcement officers, and I spoke about it with the counselor earlier, it’s a city ordinance so we can’t arrest somebody for it. So if you issue them a civil citation, they’re not leaving. You’re going to give them a piece of paper, which is unenforceable. They’re not going to leave. We can’t arrest them. And even if we did arrest them and put them in the Flagler County inmate facility, we’ll be subjected to pay for their food, their shelter and any medical attention that they would have to get while they’re at the jail. We would foot the bill. So that’s not an option either. So there’s going to be an ordinance on the books, but I just don’t see it as [having] any bite to it.”
In Flagler Beach–as in Bunnell–the first violation of the proposed ordinance is a verbal warning. But even to get to that point, a police officer would have to witness the infraction to be able to issue the warning, or the subsequent citation, which would carry a fine: panhandlers usually don’t have the money to pay fines. (At a mayors’ forum on Thursday, the audience laughed derisively when Bunnell mayor Catherine Robinson explained how panhandlers may be fined. Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher was sitting next to her.)
“We’re going to waste all this time and all this money on something that can’t be enforced if a police officer does not see it,” Provencher said of Flagler Beach’s ordinance.
“An officer could easily view that,” Cooley said, “these are the folks that our citizens feel threatened by, they get pursued, these are the folks that basically have no regard. That’s where we would want some kind of intervention to protect these citizens from being stalked or harassed. That’s really the main purpose of it.” But after Doughney spoke, Cooley said he liked the idea of tabling the ordinance and letting the police chief work out the language with the city attorney.
By then Doughney was walking back, at least for half a step, his opposition to an ordinance. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have one,” he said.
The proposed ordinance in full is below.
Flagler Beach Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance, Proposed (2019):
You do not think pan handling is a problem? You need to be reassigned……….
Now if the Sheriffs can take their attitude towards depities being used as a homeless policing force and apply that to marijuana possession and use and sales , then this county would be a much safer and better place to live for everyone.
So funny that these “small government” advocates always want to make a new law when something bothers them. But they say they want small government.
Michael Cocchiola says
The FB sheriff is right. So is Staley. You don’t create unenforceable ordinances just to try and harass people. You can’t arrest your way out of homelessness. You fix the inherent problems – poverty, illness, mental health, drug dependency – with real solutions that actually help lift people out of homelessness.
No matter what negativity is promoted here – you, know, take the homeless home yourself, they don’t want help, they’re drug-addled miscreants – these people are citizens, they are here and they need the help only a community can provide.
He must never leave his office. Try going to the 95/100 intersection and tell me there is no problem!
Rick Belhumeur says
I’m going to defend our Police Chief when people say he has no understanding of what’s going on in his own City. This article is about Flagler Beach specifically. If they don’t know where that is or what’s going on here maybe they shouldn’t be saying that he needs to get out of his office or be reassigned. Chief Doughney and his officers do an exceptional job of policing our City and we’re extremely lucky to have him.
For those who dont think panhandling is a problem in this county all cities in the county included are blind… there definitely should be laws preventing this…
John Le Tellier says
The chief is correct. There are existing laws on the books to handle AGGRESSIVE violations. No others ordinance needed. Just enforce the existing.
Please. . . this story is about what happens in the “town” of Flagler Beach. . . NOT in Flagler “County”, or Palm Coast. Our police here do a fantastic job! Many, many thanks to all our “local” officers!
this is why st augustine will always be better than flagler beach…st aug arrests the nuisance agressive pandhandlers and the city is doing better..flagler beach can have the bums-that place is a shithole anyway
@Wow…it’s comparable to the “free market capitalists” who get their Depends all in a bunch anytime any development occurs in Flagler County.
Chief Doughney does a fantastic job for Flagler Beach. Anyone saying otherwise probably doesn’t even live in FB. As a little city, we’re very lucky to have such a professional, dedicated Chief.
Ramone, what exactly has Chief Doughney done in The city of Flagler Beach. Hmmm let’s see he has hired a bunch of old friends from Daytona Beach who do absolutely nothing, but sit on their ass at the Police Department. Umm let’s see oh yeah coffee with a cop! That’s just amazing. I’ve seen him riding a bicycle every now and then. His command staff get to do whatever they want. Drive by the PD and tell me how many supervisors vehicles you see sitting there day or night. Now as far as panhandling in the city I have lived on the north part of town for 20 years and have never seen it as a problem . Please don’t call this guy the best. That department is probably one of the worst I have ever seen. 25 years experience in New York I had. I’m telling you drive through town at 4-5 am which is when I walk. There isn’t a cop in sight. Oh unless you walk by 8-Eleven they are always there or parked at the police department. Why pay for a police force when all they do is sit on their butts when they aren’t on a call.
I use to do a commercial newspaper route (single copy). I would usually get to 7-Eleven around 4:00 AM. There two particular police cars I would see all the time. One would be in the median of State Road 100 or at the Dollar General or across from Dollar General. I have only seen three police cars at 7-Eleven two times in five years of doing the route. After leaving 7-Eleven the speed limit is 35 mph then 45 mph except where they are making road construction repairs and the speed limit is 25 mph. I dare not to go over the speed limit. Why? Those two police cars are out there somewhere and they are hiding and you don’t see them until you are almost on top of them. I have to drive south of 7-11 and then all the way north on Ocean Shore Blvd. to the Citgo, Circle K, and Publix in the Hammock. They are hiding in the front of building, along the side of the building or on the opposite side of the building. I have even seen them parallel park along Ocean Shore Blvd. (A1A) and blend in with the other cars parked. You know what I don’t see on Ocean Shore Blvd. at that time? People walking outside except one or two people around 7-Eleven.
he doesn’t care about pan handling just like he doesn’t care what his deputies do or how they’re lifestyle is lived. He has deputies that don’t follow county or town ordinances or show common respect to fellow neighbors and ones that are quite honestly a disgrace to the badge.
Gmath55 you couldn’t be more wrong. For the next week when I take my walks. Actually let’s just say over the next month when I take my walks I will bring my go pro camera and who how many times they are sitting around doing nothing. And to be perfectly honest I may just sit in my car across from the 7-eleven and take video and other areas like the police department. When all of this video has been taken and I can promise at least 20 hours I will provide it to the city commissioners and see what they think. Hell I haven’t seen a patrol car come down North 12th in months. I promise this and I will deliver. Something has to be done here. We aren’t paying these officers to sit in their cars to shoot the breeze and play games on their phones.
I did the route every day and no days off. I stand by what I said. I see them hiding and only twice have I seen them at 7-11 talking. So, go for it if you think you can prove me wrong.
First of all, as mentioned above 100 and 95 are NOT a part of Flagler Beach. The chief didn’t say there were no panhandlers, he said that the proposed ordinance did not fit the problem we have here in Flagler Beach. It was overkill. I don’t go to the 7-11 because I have no respect for the owner of same related to his treatment of women, but don’t think we have an aggressive problem here in Flagler Beach. We may have pan handlers, all cities do, but I have been in cities where they are “aggressive” and believe me, this is not that.
What good does it do to give a citation or a fine to someone who has no money or no place to go. I give them bags of food in the county when I see them.