Merchants Say Bring Back the Beat Cops

Main Street businesses worried about increased panhandling

Discussion of the role of the Downtown Development Authority morphed into venting about panhandlers at Thursday morning’s meeting of the Main Street Area Association. Saying that customers are complaining, several merchants are concerned about panhandlers becoming more aggressive since the city pulled its beat cops from the street earlier this week.

The topic came up after a presentation by DDA executive director Susan Pollay, who was filling in for Rene Greff, a DDA board member and co-owner of Arbor Brewing Company and Corner Brewery. Greff had been scheduled to give the same talk she gave at a DDA retreat in May, outlining the organization’s history, how it works and what it has accomplished. 

So how did panhandling usurp parking as the most-discussed topic related to the DDA? Why aren’t beat cops patrolling downtown? What do merchants think about “Arthur,” one of the regulars who asks passers-by for change along Main Street? It all comes down to money.

The DDA and Beat Cops

We won’t attempt to detail Pollay’s presentation, except to note the part relevant to the issue of beat cops. In 2005 the DDA and the city reached a parking system administration agreement under which the city could ask the DDA for up to $2 million each year not to exceed $10 million over 10 years. Pollay said that as part of that agreement, it was the DDA’s expectation that the city would fund beat cops to the downtown. However, this was not part of the contractual arrangement, she said – the city can use the $2 million for any purpose. So the DDA had no recourse when the city decided to restructure the way it handles patrols.

Until this week, six officers were assigned to walk or bicycle the downtown area, working in pairs at any given time. As part of a restructuring of the Ann Arbor Police Department, those patrols have been eliminated. The Chronicle’s coverage of the May 18 city council meeting reported the explanation that police chief Barnett Jones gave to council:

… Jones explained that the total number of uniforms downtown would actually increase. Officers are required to spend one hour every day outside of their cars – partly to conserve fuel, Jones said. And during these out-of-car breaks, they’d be walking around downtown. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) clarified that by “break” Jones didn’t mean sitting in a cafe eating lunch. Jones also clarified for Smith that the new way of organizing the policing of downtown was not a break from the notion of “community policing.”

One visible sign of this change at Thursday morning’s meeting was the uniform of Doug Martelle, who was formerly on bike patrol in the downtown area. At previous meetings of the Main Street Area Association, Martelle and his partner wore cycling shorts. On Thursday, Martelle was alone, and in a regular uniform.

During the Q&A following Pollay’s talk, Roger Pothus described an incident this week near Renaissance, his clothing store on South Division. There was a break-in at a home during the middle of the afternoon – Pothus said that people who witnessed the incident and called in to report it were “lectured” that there were fewer police officers on the force and that no one could come out to the scene. They were told that if they wanted to report the crime, they needed to come to the downtown police station, Pothus said.

The topic of security shifted to panhandling, as someone suggested that the city’s mayor, John Hieftje, be asked to walk the downtown area in the late afternoon, particularly when panhandlers gather around Starbucks at the corner of Main and Liberty.

Several people identified “Arthur” as one of the more aggressive panhandlers, known for walking with a single crutch. Rebecca Konieczny, owner of the Busy Hands yarn and gift store, said she’d gotten so mad that she followed him up and down Main Street, calling the police from her cell phone. Someone else suggested that perhaps merchants start carrying mace and pepper spray, to which Martelle responded: “I can’t condone the use of mace on the homeless population.”

Pollay said the best way to get increased levels of service is to call the city each time there’s a problem. Newcombe Clark, president of the Main Street Area Association board, said the association could make the non-emergency police phone number more widely available to downtown merchants. [The non-emergency number is (734) 794-6911]

“We urge you to call,” Martelle said. Even if the panhandler is gone by the time police arrive and they can’t write up the incident, the call will be logged, he said. The time of the call is recorded, as is the time that an officer is dispatched and the times they arrive and leaves.

Carl Ent, a former Ann Arbor police chief who is now a vice president at the Bank of Ann Arbor, told the group that even if it takes an officer 25 minutes to respond in one instance, the next time he might be right around the corner when the call comes in, and can respond more quickly.

Martelle said Arthur was one of their “no tolerance guys” – if he was violating the law, they’d write a ticket. For panhandlers they hadn’t seen on the street before, police first give them a warning and explain what was permitted and what was not. When Martelle told the group that Arthur had been successful in getting some of his tickets waived,  several merchants responded with groans of exasperation.

Later in the meeting, Pollay announced that the DDA was giving $16,000 to the four downtown merchant associations – $4,000 each – to use for window display contests, with the goal of making downtown more walkable.

Clark had this suggestion: “Put beat cops in all the windows.”


  1. July 3, 2009 at 12:19 pm | permalink

    It might be helpful for Chronicle readers to know what panhandlers are allowed to do and what crosses the line to justify a complaint (in a law enforcement sense.) Could someone provide the relevant ordinance language or a link to it?

    Best way to deal with panhandlers? Befriend them. Ignoring them doesn’t address the experience for shoppers/diners, and removing them isn’t an option. Enforcement doesn’t seem to have improved the situation. But if a bunch of downtowners decided that once a week or so they’d chat up a panhandler during their coffee break or take them to lunch, that might just be good enough. After all, if they’re engaged in a conversation with you, they can’t be asking someone else for money. And if you’re a boring windbag, they eventually might just head the other way when they see you coming. :-) Best case, they might come to feel connected to the community to the point that they don’t feel the need for drugs (assuming that that’s what’s behind their behavior.) Knowing Arthur by name is a good first step. Are we willing to take the next step?

    It’ll be interesting to see what merchants come up with in the window display contests. By the way, I think the appropriate term is “pedestrian friendly” rather than “walkable”.

  2. By Dave Askins
    July 3, 2009 at 12:45 pm | permalink

    From Chapter 108 of the city code on Disorderly Conduct, which was added back in 2003:

    9:70. Solicitation.
    Except as otherwise provided in Chapters 79 and 81 of this Code, it shall be unlawful for any person to solicit the immediate payment of money or goods from another person, whether or not in exchange for goods, services, or other consideration, under any of the following circumstances:
    1. On private property, except as otherwise permitted by Chapters 79 and 81, unless the solicitor has permission from the owner or occupant;
    2. In any public transportation vehicle or public transportation facility;
    3. In any public parking structure and within 12 feet of any entrance or exit to any public parking structure;
    4. From a person who is in any vehicle on the street;
    5. By obstructing the free passage of pedestrian or vehicle traffic;
    6. Within 12 feet of a bank or automated teller machine;
    7. By moving to within 2 feet of the person solicited, unless that person has indicated that he/she wishes to be solicited;
    8. By following and continuing to solicit a person who walks away from the solicitor;
    9. By knowingly making a false or misleading representation in the course of a solicitation;
    10. In a manner that appears likely to cause a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities to feel intimidated, threatened or harassed;
    11. Within 12 feet of the entrance to or exit from the Nickels Arcade, located between State Street and Maynard Street; the Galleria, located between S. University and the Forest Street parking structure; and the Pratt Building, located between Main Street and the Ashley parking lot; or
    12. From a person who is a patron at any outdoor cafe or restaurant.
    (Ord. No. 22-96, § 2, 8-5-96; Ord. No. 25-03, 7-7-03)

  3. July 3, 2009 at 1:50 pm | permalink

    I’m pretty sure the police non-emergency number is still (734) 994-2911. The City website is ambiguous; it says that’s both the emergency and non-emergency number.

    Lots of other comments about things said in the meeting, but I’ll sit on those for a while.

  4. By Mary Morgan
    July 3, 2009 at 2:07 pm | permalink

    Matt, we took the non-emergency number from this list.

    Doug Martelle from the AAPD said the same dispatchers handle calls to both 911 and the non-emergency number. Looks like there are several ways of reaching dispatch.

  5. July 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm | permalink

    Panhandling is a semi-organized effort. Panhandlers talk to each other. They share opportunities–and that includes locations, strategies and tactics. If something works for one, expect the others to use it. Steve is well intentioned but his solution is destined for failure. One at a time doesn’t work. Organized efforts are best met with organized responses.

    Keep in mind that panhandler’s are in it for the money. They can make $10 to $15 an hour. Beats working. Unfortunately, more than that comes out of the pockets of the merchants. To the city as a whole, its a net loss. If you want to stop panhandling, take away the economic incentive. Offer the panhandler a job (e.g., cutting your grass) rather than making a donation. Don’t worry, none of them will take it.

    Like the Graffiti that plagues buildings, signs and mailboxes, panhandling is the kind of thing that signals urban deterioration. Its form of pollution or contamination. Let it go and you can watch the city degrade.

  6. By anon
    July 5, 2009 at 2:07 am | permalink

    I think that the merchants (and maybe some of the people posting non factual comments here) need to contact Ozone House or the Delonis Center and get educated about panhandling and the homeless.

  7. By Mark
    July 7, 2009 at 10:22 am | permalink

    I never give a panhandler money. I have seen some of the same people coma back to town as soon as the students arrive. If they weren’t making money at it, they wouldn’t be here, period. One guy has the voice and cadence of an auctioneer — when I suggested that he take that up as an occupation, he looked at me like I had totally ruined his day. If there were not an economic incentive to coming to the “rich” and tolerant town of Ann Arbor, they would not be here. So, don’t give them money and make it harder for them to operate. I bet that tony Birmingham doesn’t have the same problem…

  8. By rodii
    July 7, 2009 at 10:39 pm | permalink

    What’s wrong with “walkable”? Walkability is more than just pedestrian friendliness, isn’t it?

  9. By Anna Ercoli Schnitzer
    July 8, 2009 at 10:11 am | permalink

    Walkable is perfect. I had a nice informative conversation with a very pleasant officer yesterday afternoon as he strolled by on Main St, whereas I never could/would have had the chance to make such a contact had he been passing by on a bike, motorcycle, or car.

  10. July 8, 2009 at 12:26 pm | permalink

    “What’s wrong with “walkable”? Walkability is more than just pedestrian friendliness, isn’t it?”

    I see it being the other way around, with walkable being a subset of pedestrian friendly, which extends beyond the physical infrastructure (e.g., sidewalks) to the visual experience (e.g., attractive window displays.)

  11. By Dave LaFave
    July 8, 2009 at 2:28 pm | permalink

    As the window display artist for the Selo/Shevel Gallery I am thrilled by the notion of the DDA providing money for retailers to “step-it-up” a notch. The hanging carrot of $4,000.00 may very well help some merchants spruce up their spaces! I can’t wait to hear the stipulations of these -as yet- unorganized contests.

  12. By Mary Morgan
    July 8, 2009 at 4:05 pm | permalink

    Dave [#11], I’ve been a huge fan of Selo/Shevel Gallery’s window displays, and now I’m glad to know the creative force behind that work! The fact that the displays change regularly and vary stylistically makes an impression on passers-by, and that impression makes the store memorable. It’s not that I walk downtown specifically because of those displays, but it makes my downtown experience a notch better.

    When I was a child growing up in Indianapolis, my family made a trek downtown every Christmas to see the department store window displays, which were magical. It was also one of the rare occasions that my parents shopped downtown – I’m sure they wouldn’t have shopped if the window displays hadn’t drawn the family there in the first place.

  13. By rodii
    July 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm | permalink

    The concept of walkability usually includes lots more aspects than just sidewalks–the mix of uses and populations, for example. A place with good sidewalks, traffic calming, etc. still might not be good on the walkability scale if it was all offices without casual destinations for walkers (parks, stores, restaurants, libraries). Also things like sun and shade, air quality, street furniture, universal design, etc. Interestingly,’s list of walkable Michigan cities includes Brighton and East Lansing, but not Ann Arbor. However, calls us a “walker’s paradise.”

  14. By Dave LaFave
    July 9, 2009 at 8:56 pm | permalink

    Mary (#12), thank you so much for your kind words. I try to switch it up at the corner of Main and Liberty and make it interesting… not just “Oh, here’s a vase on a pedestal” sort of stuff. It’s fun and I enjoy the challenge of never repeating myself.
    I also make a point of being 110% GREEN. I only use recycled materials and repurposed items. I’m quite the dumpster diver.
    Anyway, Rodii – you are so right. Sidewalk furniture would be awesome as I think alot of people don’t find the edge of the giant planter pots very comfortable and hey, how about some drinking fountains that actually work? I love Main Street and Main Street has been my home for many years (I used to live in the apt. above the old Chocolate House) so I have some definite ideas about what needs to happen down there to speed improvement. As do you, Rodii. What an interesting name.