Police in the Vail Valley try to offer help to people who are panhandling | VailDaily.com

Police in the Vail Valley try to offer help to people who are panhandling

A panhandler sits on a median along State Highway 9 in Frisco on Tuesday, Aug. 28. The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding that Blue River, along with a handful of other Colorado municipalities, repeal “unconstitutional” anti-panhandling laws.

EAGLE COUNTY — Those of us who spend much time on Interstate 70 will occasionally see people just off the road, usually asking for charity of some kind. While not common, the practice is legal.

The American Civil Liberties Union in August sent a letter to 31 Colorado towns with a demand for those municipalities to drop their ordinances against panhandling. Those towns include Blue River in Summit County, Alma and Fairplay in Park County and DeBeque in Mesa County.

No Eagle County towns were on the list, and local police chiefs say their departments generally use a gentle hand with the people they encounter.

"It's so rare, we don't really have a consistent policy," Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said, adding that officers will check to make sure an individual isn't wanted in another jurisdiction, and not on the interstate.

Henninger said the department occasionally receives calls from residents concerned about the welfare of people spotted at interchanges and elsewhere. In those cases, an officer will respond.

But that response usually involves checking to make sure the person is OK and then offering help.

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Avon Police Chief Greg Daly said his officers often refer people to the local Salvation Army. That group can help arrange car repairs for stranded motorists or bus transportation for those who need it.

Daly on Friday, Sept. 14, had spent some time trying to arrange aid for a woman and her partner who were traveling to Arizona.

Daly said the department was working on trying to find bus tickets for the pair.

Most of the time, there's no reason to contact someone unless officers receive a specific complaint or concern, Daly said. Sometimes, that complaint involves people on private property.

"They may be panhandling on what looks like a road," Daly said. "A property manager can ask us to remove them."

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said his officers sometimes respond to people who may be a "threat to themselves or others."

"A majority of the time, our guys will stop, talk to them and offer assistance." If someone wants a bus ticket, that can be arranged. But, van Beek added, "We don't force (anyone) on a bus."

People down on their luck are sometimes looking for services that aren't available in the valley, van Beek said. If so, officers will find transportation.

On the other hand, some people may be a danger to themselves or others.

In one case, van Beek said a person was camping near the visitor center in Eagle, trying to start a campfire on the sidewalk.

After a long conversation, the officer asked the person where he wanted to go.

Into the forest, he replied.

"We got him a bus ticket, told him to stay out of trouble and to have a nice day," van Beek said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

The list

The American Civil Liberties Union in August urged 31 Colorado towns to repeal their panhandling ordinances. Those towns — none of which are in Eagle County — are:

Aguilar, Alma, Berthoud, Blue River, Brush, Central City, Columbine Valley, Commerce City, De Beque, Del Norte, Estes Park, Fairplay, Frederick, Garden City, Granby, Idaho Springs, Julesburg, La Jara, Mancos, New Castle, Ouray, Palisade, Paonia, Pierce, Rangley, Timnath, Victor, Wellington, Windsor, Wray and Yuma.