The problem with Augusta's anti-panhandling law isn't that it doesn't work, it's that it's too limited. It should work better if it's broadened.
The Augusta Commission last March moved to strike a blow against aggressive downtown panhandling by banning it along Broad Street, the Augusta Common and the Armstrong Galleria in the Laney-Walker area.
The expectation was that the prohibition would have a ripple effect throughout the downtown vicinity. The ban has been working well in the targeted areas, according to a number of merchants. David Moretz, a member of the Downtown Advisory Council, says he's also heartened by the new law so far.
However, the ripple effect hasn't been rippling all that much. The dip in aggressive panhandling outside the targeted areas apparently isn't that great. Panhandlers are still busy around the 15th Street Kroger shopping center, and there have been complaints that they harass people who cash checks at the credit union near the post office on Eighth Street.
People should be free of panhandling harassment wherever they go downtown - not just in selected areas. It makes no sense to have a hard line against panhandling on Broad Street and not on 15th Street. Folks have a right to walk the entire area without being bullied or threatened by requests for money.
To be fully effective, the ordinance should be expanded to include all of downtown.
We understand a widespread crackdown on aggressive begging would put an extra strain on law-enforcement resources, particularly manpower and prison space. But that will just have to be dealt with, as making downtown safe requires not only trying to sweep the area clean of gangs and street thugs, but also of pushy, abrasive panhandlers.
Sometimes it's hard to tell them apart.