The ACLU of Arizona has filed a lawsuit against the city of Flagstaff for cracking down on panhandling.
In 2008, Flagstaff police took on a project called “Operation 40” to address what it calls “quality of life” issues in Flagstaff.
The project was named for the inexpensive 40-ounce beverages that were commonly associated with what some would consider minor crimes like drinking in public, open container laws, too intoxicated to purchase alcohol and loitering to beg.
Walter Miller, a spokesman for the Flagstaff Police Department, said these minor crimes often lead to more major crimes.
"It has been a success," Miller said. "We have seen a decline in aggravated assaults. We’ve seen a decline in some shoplifting cases."
In the last year 135 people have been arrested under the “loitering to beg” statute.
Alessandra Soler, who directs the ACLU of Arizona, said the state statute is antiquated.
"We believe that it’s unconstitutional," Soler said. "Begging is not a crime. People have the right to ask for donations in a public arena. It’s protected speech under the First Amendment."
Soler said the ACLU filed the suit on behalf of an elderly Hopi woman who was arrested for begging in Flagstaff. She was arrested after asking an undercover police officer for money for bus fare.