The word is out downtown.
If you decide to panhandle, you just might end up being arrested.
Since the city enacted an ordinance to combat aggressive panhandling in March, those searching for spare change and cigarettes have been given the bum's rush on Broad Street - just one small step in improving the quality of life in the heart of the city.
"It adds to the comfort level," Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said. "We're not trying to run off our homeless people, but you never get a second chance to make a first impression."
And the problem with Broad Street is mostly one of perception, said Brad Owens, a member of the Downtown Advisory Panel, which first brought the ordinance to the city in 2005.
"The problem we have is the perception that it's unsafe downtown," Mr. Owens said. "I'm pretty much downtown all the time, and I've only been asked for money once."
The Richmond County Sheriff's Office has taken getting the word out about the ordinance change seriously, Col. Gary Powell said.
"When it was first enacted, we started a heavy campaign with our crime suppression unit," he said.
The object wasn't to arrest homeless people or even those who are panhandling at first, but to put them on notice that those repeatedly begging for money in the Broad Street and Armstrong Galleria area would be charged, the colonel said.
Maj. Richard Weaver, the head of road patrol, said so far, deputies have had what the department describes as 18 "contacts." The deputies have conducted interviews and taken photographs for their files and, if they were called back out, the person was charged.
He could not say for sure how many cases have been made since the charge is often listed as disorderly conduct and not panhandling.
But he said it has been effective.
"Absolutely, it is a tool that we can use," Maj. Weaver said.
Augusta is not alone in enacting a panhandling ordinance. Other Georgia cities, including Atlanta and Macon, have adopted similar measures.
Jai West, the owner of the White Elephant Cafe, said downtown merchants are working diligently to rework the landscape.
Like Mr. Owens, Ms. West said she has rarely had a problem and spends many hours on Broad Street.
However, she said that before the ordinance was adopted her customers were sometimes approached by panhandlers as they dined outside.
"I have noticed a difference," she said Friday. "Especially on First Fridays."
Mr. Copenhaver said he believes that as people see this ordinance being enforced they will be less likely to continue the behavior and the quality of life will improve downtown.
"I'm focused on a holistic approach," Mr. Copenhaver said. "We need new jobs and we need new businesses and we need people to come downtown."
Reach Amy Allyn Swann at (706) 823-3338 or email@example.com.
ABOUT THE ORDINANCE
Under the ordinance adopted in March, aggressive panhandling is prohibited in the Broad Street and Augusta Common area and the Armstrong Galleria area. Aggressive panhandling is defined as asking or begging in a way that is threatening or intimidating. Those found guilty of violating the ordinance are sent to magistrate court and could be fined and/or jailed.
Source: Augusta Clerk of Commission