Flagstaff introduces vouchers for panhandlers

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Flagstaff police have announced a new program aimed at meeting legitimate needs of panhandlers.

Police are encouraging people to purchase vouchers instead of handing out cash. The coupons can be used for local services and goods but aren't valid for alcohol or tobacco.

Police say Flagstaff has since an increase in people turning to panhandling since a federal judge ruled last year that Arizona's law criminalizing panhandling in public places is unconstitutional.

Police say the voucher system should ease concerns that cash donations are being used to feed substance abuse problems.

The police department has partnered with other groups in Flagstaff to introduce the vouchers. A book of five $1 vouchers sells for $6.

Police say similar programs across the country have helped decrease the number of panhandlers.