Officials hope “behavior based” ordinance will make downtown Rapid City safer
Panhandling in downtown areas is nothing new and a change in a Rapid City ordinance aims to address behavioral problems deemed a public safety risk.
Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris says the change to the ordinance has been two years in the making and combined with other efforts, is making a difference downtown.
“The current ordinance that the council has passed the first reading of allows law enforcement action if there is aggressive behavior that would interfere with the free passage of another person, puts somebody in fear, or interfering with vehicle traffic,” said Jegeris.
Jegeris says there is a condition downtown of “chronically inebriated individuals” residing day after day. In most cases, he says incarceration is rarely the answer, especially with low level offenses.
“Our officers use great compassion when addressing this challenging population,” said Jegeris. “In most cases, we’re able to find an alternative placement when someone’s in a crisis state to the point where they’re bothering other people.”
Tourists and local visitors may just deal with panhandlers on occasion but, in addition to law enforcement, another group sees the issue more often: local businesses.
According to Siaryn Duggan, owner of Celtic Connection of the Black Hills, during the tourism season panhandling affects her business 5 to 6 times a day. In some instances, she says people come into her shop just to get away from panhandlers outside.
Duggan’s shop has been on 6th Street in downtown Rapid City for 11 years and says the steps taken with the ordinance and addition of the Care Campus nearby are steps in the right direction but the problem won’t be fixed overnight.
Jegeris says since the opening of the Care Campus, 63 people a day on average are taken off the street who are dealing with alcohol addiction.
“The model is working very well, especially in that individuals are self-reporting to the Care Campus when they need help,” said Jegeris. “It’s removing the police intervention, the conflict with the community, and at the end of the day, it’s better care for those most vulnerable in the community.”
Despite feedback from people in opposition of the ordinance, claiming it targets a certain race, Chief Jegeris says the changes are behavior based and “speaks for itself.”
Dan Senftner, CEO of Destination Rapid City, who supports the ordinance, says comfort for everyone in the area is the highest priority.
“There’s been a lot of changes for that helping hand and that’s what we really want to do,” said Senftner. “It’s about making the community feel safe, it’s about the visitor being safe, it’s about doing all the things to wrap around the community being safe and a great place to live.”
The next reading of the ordinance is March 4 and if approved, it takes 30 days to go into effect.