Chattanooga police want to expand city panhandling ordinance
Chattanooga Police and city officials are working to combat panhandling in the downtown area, and help those in need.
Chattanooga Police and city officials are working to combat panhandling in the downtown area and help those in need.
Police hope to expand the current panhandling ordinance, which only covers part of downtown.
Business owners and police say the number of panhandlers downtown has not increased, but they do think they have moved and are targeting new areas because Miller Park is closed for construction.
"It’s been fairly consistent but with some of the renovations and the new businesses popping up, it's just drawn more attention in certain areas," Lt. Daniel Francis with the Chattanooga Police Department.
Panhandling is illegal in parts of Chattanooga, mostly along the riverfront and in the tourist area of town, but Lt. Francis said the problem seems to be moving around the city.
"We're not trying to stop people from getting help who truly need help,” Lt. Francis said. “That's a very important message to get across."
In 2017, city records show police issued 53 citations for panhandling. So far this year, 7 citations have been issued. Citations can can come with $50 fines.
Lt. Francis said officers encounter panhandlers multiple times a week but do not always issue a citation.
Now, Police Chief David Roddy is asking the city council to expand the current ordinance so panhandling would be illegal in every part of the city.
Cole Montalvo lives downtown and has noticed the problem, but he doesn't believe giving out a citation is always the answer.
"What are you going to do," Montalvo urged. "Arrest people for being poor? How does that help the situation? You always do want to help. Sometimes you see someone who is really in need."
Lt. Francis agrees. He said expanding the law does not only allow police to cite panhandlers, but to help those who really need it. He is working with organizations that help provide people with resources, like healthcare.
"Obviously, this isn't something we're going to arrest our way out of," Lt. Francis urged. "Simply arresting people or writing tickets is not always the answer. If they truly need help, we can begin to plug them into some of these other social services and some of our other partners, so we can meet their needs, so they don't have to be out on the street panhandling."
Lt. Francis said officers are working overtime to respond to panhandling calls. The city council will have to decide how to move forward, but no date for a vote has been set.