Originally created 09/17/02

Police start panhandler crackdown



Police will begin targeting aggressive panhandlers in downtown Augusta this week in response to complaints that they are harassing people.

Plainclothes officers will hit the streets, looking for panhandlers who are breaking the law, said Maj. Ken Autry of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. He would not say what the charge would be, only that those panhandlers who violate the law would be arrested.

Richmond County authorities could not cite a specific state law or county ordinance that prohibits panhandling, which is when someone begs for money or food.

"We're seeing that they're being very aggressive and not able to take no for an answer," Maj. Autry said. "We're going to target some peak hours and put those officers down there to see if we can break it up."

In a recent case, a woman complained to police that she gave a beggar money but was harassed later that evening when she wouldn't give him more, Maj. Autry said.

The crackdown also follows the arrest of five suspects in a string of at least 14 business break-ins. Maj. Autry described some of the suspects as "street people" who were known to beg for money.

"We found that them and other vagrants in the downtown area were responsible for many of the burglaries and petty thefts that we experienced down there," the major said.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength reacted to the burglary arrests by ordering plainclothes officers to mingle with the public and arrest any panhandler who violates the law, Maj. Autry said. Most of the crackdown will occur after dark, when panhandlers are more likely to operate, he said.

Police say anyone who is harassed by a panhandler should report it to the sheriff's office by calling 821-1080.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.