Baltimore’s squeegee ban aims to deter panhandling on busy intersections

The new policy was prompted by the murder of a man who confronted a squeegee worker at a downtown intersection and was shot last year

By Lee O. Sanderlin and Darcy Costello
Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Baltimore’s new enforcement approach to the workers who squeegee windows for cash at city intersections begins Tuesday, with the start of warnings and citations along six major thoroughfares.

Under the plan, outlined in November, city officials hope to drive squeegee workers to support services and career opportunities, while also cracking down on the practice, preventing interactions with motorists.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison in a Monday interview with The Baltimore Sun cast the strategy as a way for police to help connect the workers with city services such as education, skills training, housing assistance and mental health or addiction treatment. City officials will be able to see the individuals who police interact with and reach out to them with further offers of assistance.

“This is very unique,” Harrison said. “Here’s an opportunity to become a productive member of our community, where the police actually help and put you on track to get a good, wage-paying job.”

Still, workers with two or more violations will see consequences.

Adults will receive two warnings then a citation on a third offense, Harrison said. Children, meaning people under age 18, will get a warning, then attempts to connect them with either their school or a parent or guardian. If such efforts are unsuccessful, they will be taken to the Department of Social Services’ juvenile division.

Mayor Brandon Scott has called for “equitable” enforcement, and said the city won’t return to past issues with unconstitutional policing. The city’s law department said last year that a narrowly tailored plan wouldn’t infringe on First Amendment rights.

Still, it remains to be seen whether the plan succeeds.

“I’m going to be honest with you — there are going to be some failures,” said Faith Leach, the city’s deputy mayor of equity, health and human services, at a November news conference announcing the city’s squeegee plan. “We’re not always going to get it right, but we’re also not going to give up.”

Squeegee workers have operated at city intersections for decades; many are Black youths experiencing severe poverty, seeking cash to meet their basic needs.

Their presence on city streets became a renewed political flashpoint last year following the July death of Timothy Reynolds, 48, who confronted squeegee workers with a bat at a downtown intersection. The interaction ended with one of the workers, a 14-year-old boy, shooting and killing Reynolds.

The boy, now 15, is charged with first-degree murder; his lawyers maintain he acted in self-defense.

Here’s what to know:

Where in Baltimore will the squeegee ban take place?

Baltimore officials have said they hope to target initial enforcement efforts at six zones across Baltimore where squeegeeing and panhandling have been most prevalent.

The locations include the areas where Reynolds was killed and where the federal judge overseeing Baltimore Police Department reform efforts had a run-in this fall with workers that led him to call police.

The zones are:

  • Wabash Avenue and Northern Parkway.
  • Mount Royal Avenue, North Avenue and Interstate 83.
  • Sinclair Lane and Moravia Road.
  • President Street, Jones Falls Expressway and I-83.
  • Martin Luther King Boulevard and Interstate 395.
  • Conway Street, Light Street and I-395.

The city has placed signage near the intersections and along the corridors to alert would-be panhandlers that the practice is banned there.

“Warning: High Traffic Intersection. No entering roadway except to use crosswalk. Violators subject to enforcement,” the signs read, along with a number to reach the mayor’s office for those in need of city services.

How will enforcement work?

When someone in one of the designated intersections is squeegeeing or otherwise asking for money, including panhandling, the first step is a warning.

An officer will upload the individual’s information to the police records system and provide a referral to city services. The mayor’s office of African American Male Engagement will be able to access the data and reach out to that person, Harrison said.

If the same person is spotted at any point the next day or beyond, it’s considered a second violation. A calendar day must pass in order to receive a second violation, Harrison said. Second violations still result in another warning, Harrison said.

If the individual has a third violation, men or women 18 and above would be issued citations, ordering them to appear in court where they could face a fine.

Children, who would get only one warning, will be taken to their school by a system employee or taken to a parent or guardian on their second violation. As a last resort, the child could be taken to the Department of Social Services’ juvenile division.

City schools, along with police, will be tasked with visiting squeegee corners and doing outreach, officials said. If a currently enrolled student is found on a corner, school officials will be allowed to take the child back to class, according to the plan.

It’s not clear if police will arrest squeegee workers or other panhandlers after a third incident.

New Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates has said repeatedly that his goal is not to prosecute people cited for squeegeeing and panhandling, but to connect them with the mayor’s office by way of a court-ordered diversionary program.

He said in a Monday statement to The Sun that he looks forward to a “productive collaboration” to ensure workers get the resources and support to “transform themselves into productive members of society.”

“This is about safety in Baltimore, both for our residents and visitors,” Bates said. “I have already made it clear to the Baltimore Police Department that under my administration, we will enforce all laws of Baltimore City.”

Through all of these steps, officers would be expected to record interactions with their body-worn cameras, which could then be audited for improvements.

Harrison said the department doesn’t expect the new approach to worsen police relationships with the community, largely because the strategy’s goal is to connect workers with resources and services, rather than solely enforcement.

“We’re delivering something that enforcement alone does not deliver,” Harrison said. “This is unlike something the city has ever done or what you see being done in other areas.”

He also stressed the importance of officers providing “police legitimacy” by introducing themselves, explaining the reason for the interaction and explaining the violation that was observed.

Are drivers still allowed to give money? Can squeegee workers go elsewhere?

While the onus of the ban is on squeegee workers and other panhandlers, the city’s enforcement plan also prevents motorists from engaging in the six intersections. City leaders have said drivers who impede traffic to give money or otherwise interact with squeegee workers also could be cited.

The mayor’s office said in the fall it was working to create a new platform for motorists to pay workers. Known as Shine, the platform is supposed to accept online donations that can be made to specific workers who register with the city, and will be used to help the workers achieve goals, such as obtaining a commercial driver’s license. However, the platform has not been publicly launched.

The money would be disbursed by a nonprofit, but city officials have not said which one.

The city’s squeegee plan does not ban window washing at other intersections, only the six areas identified by the city. While the prohibited zones are subject to change, squeegeeing, a form of panhandling, cannot be banned outright.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled panhandling and solicitation are protected speech under the First Amendment.

©2023 Baltimore Sun.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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