Greenwood steps up enforcement against human road distractions

If you’re stopped at one of Greenwood’s busiest intersections, you may notice something is missing.

No longer will you be startled by someone in the median hawking $5 pizzas or cheap tax returns or asking you for your spare change after the city took a tougher stance on the practice.

Panhandlers and people holding signs for businesses were routinely standing in traffic — often in the median of busy intersections along U.S. 31, Greenwood Police Chief John Laut said. That raised concerns for both their safety, as well as the safety of those driving by. Drivers could be distracted behind the wheel, or their vision could be blocked by the people waving signs.

Recently, Greenwood police asked a city board to take up the issue and consider a new city rule. But they soon found out a new rule wasn’t needed: the practice is already banned by the city.

So now, police officers are spending more time talking to the sign spinners and panhandlers about where they can and can’t be. Since Greenwood’s policy became official last year, officers have been reminding people of the rules, but have not needed to hand out tickets, Laut said. It is now against the law for people to walk up to stopped cars while at a traffic light or stop sign.

People promoting businesses or panhandling while blocking a street or sidewalk can be ticketed by the Greenwood Police Department and fined between $120 and $2,500. Panhandlers and promoters can still wave their signs, but away from intersections, sidewalks and right-of-ways.

And now, drivers will notice fewer people waving signs or dressing up in costumes and standing on public sidewalks or medians, Laut said.

In the past, some of the top areas for panhandlers and sign spinners were along Emerson Avenue, County Line Road and U.S. 31, Laut said. The rules are the same in Marion County, where some businesses have posted the policy on their doors to keep sign spinners and panhandlers away.

The rules haven’t stopped people from asking for donations, a southside worker said.

Kim Harvey, who works near County Line Road and U.S. 31, notices the same two people near her workplace every day, she said.

“For me, I sit in the parking lot and eat my lunch, and I’ll see what they do,” Harvey said.

If police do approach them, typically they ask for their IDs, Harvey said. Although the panhandlers will leave temporarily, the same two people routinely come back to the same spot on County Line Road, she said.

What the rules say

Here’s what city rules say about what panhandlers and sign spinners cannot do in Greenwood:

  • Approach someone while standing in line or stopped in their car at a traffic light
  • Stand in the median or right-of-way of a public road
  • Block or obstruct a sidewalk, right-of-way or street
  • Be within 20 feet of a bank or ATM
  • Follow someone after they have refused to donate money or items

Source: Greenwood city rules