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Arlington Police: Don’t Give to Roadside Panhandlers

Money (file photo)The Arlington County Police Department is urging motorists to stop giving money to roadside panhandlers, suggesting that many may not be as needy as they claim to be.

In a press release Sept. 3, which was published on the county website but apparently not sent to news outlets, ACPD said that residents “should avoid giving panhandlers money directly.”

“There’s no telling what the cash will be used for,” said an ACPD captain, referring specifically to those to beg for money on traffic medians. “Officers have even seen those who appear to be indigent drive off in their own cars after working an intersection.”

The Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, which helps the homeless, has echoed the police department’s anti-roadside-panhandling call.

“Most panhandlers are not homeless, and most homeless are not panhandlers,” Kathy Sibert, CEO of A-SPAN, told the Arlington Connection newspaper earlier this summer.

Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey, who first dug up the police press release, points out that many roadside panhandlers seem to be part of a coordinated group.

“It’s pretty clear most of the panhandling in A-town is coordinated in teams,” McCaffrey wrote on his blog. “I once even asked Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy whether she’d be trying to collect business-license fees, it’s so coordinated.”

Two years ago, 88 percent of respondents to an ARLnow poll said that police should be more aggressive with roadside panhandlers. However, police say the beggars are within their constitutional rights.

Police recommend that those who wish to make a positive difference in the lives of the less fortunate instead donate to groups like A-SPAN or the Arlington Food Assistance Network (AFAC).

The full ACPD press release, after the jump.

Stepping from car to car in search of loose coins and bills, they risk their own safety walking a dangerous line between protected free speech and being an obstruction, Arlington Police Captain Patrick Donahue explains. They’re the subject of “constant calls” to Donahue’s District 1 from residents who are sympathetic but leery or just plain angry about being approached when they are stopped at a red light and unable to move.

Despite heart-wrenching signs that speak of homelessness or even physical traumas displayed from traffic medians, Donahue says motorists should avoid giving panhandlers money directly. It usually “does not improve their situation” since there’s no telling what the cash will be used for, Donahue says. Officers have even seen those who appear to be indigent drive off in their own cars after working an intersection.

For everyone’s safety and the guaranteed benefit of those in need, police and social services recommend contributing to familiar organizations in the community that help the hungry and the homeless. Two such groups: Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) and theArlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). The County Department of Human Services can suggest a host of recognized charities.

Although Arlington Police have arrested “quite a few” panhandlers on charges of obstructing traffic, jaywalking and even fighting over choice locations, Donahue says that courts have generally upheld the right of panhandlers to patrol curbs of roadways. It’s an issue of basic constitutional rights.

So panhandlers keep returning to dangerous medians because motorists keep giving. “Never a good mix” in Donahue’s words.

Arlington has better, more proven ways to help those in need. It’s just a matter of giving in the right direction.

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