Panhandling, littering and mailbox thefts dominated the first Tukee Talks session of the new year last week as Phoenix police and other law enforcement-related officials met with about 40 Ahwatukee residents.
But some attendees seemed unhappy to learn that there’s not much that Phoenix police can legally do about littering or panhandling.
Although the South Mountain Precinct patrols Ahwatukee, the Phoenix Police Department was represented by Mountain View Commander Anthony Vasquez, who also commands a city-wide squad that goes after repeat offenders of serious crimes.
He told the audience that the most effective way of combatting panhandling was to not give beggars money.
“Over half of these people are not homeless,” he said. “They are part of a business.”
Adding that “we do not target homeless people,” Vasquez said panhandlers often are part of operations that frequently move among various states in a concerted effort to prey on people’s sympathies.
Since 2015, an Arizona law poses fines and even arrest for “aggressive panhandling” and forbids beggars from touching, following or otherwise harassing people or stopping traffic.
But outside of such conduct, Vasquez said, it is not a crime to ask strangers for money.
Several members of the audience also blamed homeless people for littering, especially at the intersections of I-10 exit and entrance ramps with Elliot, Warner and Ray roads.
One woman suggested police patrol and arrest litterers, but Vasquez said littering constituted only a civil violation that would result in a citation and fine at best.
Sam Stone, chief of staff for city Councilman Sal DiCiccio, said residents who see piles of trash at the ramps’ entrance and exit points can call his office and aides will have city waste collection crews pick it up.
A representative of the U.S. Postal Service also appeared in response to scattered reports of mailbox break-ins in Ahwatukee.
While some audience members expressed concerns about thieves breaking into mailbox clusters, a Phoenix police officer said such break-ins are extremely rare.
Tracey Church, who administers the Ahwatukee Crime Watch site on Facebook, often organizes the quarterly Tukee Talks sessions around topics suggested by residents on public safety issues.
The next session is March 29 at the Ahwatukee Recreation Center, 5001 E. Cheyenne Drive, Ahwatukee.