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Springfield police are cracking down on aggressive panhandlers

Officers watched intersections known for panhandling and made several arrests

May 14, 2012|Emily Rittman, Ben Knaup | KSPR Reporter, KSPR Photojournalist

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Springfield police are cracking down on aggressive panhandlers asking for cash along the city's streets. Police officers received complaints about homeless people panhandling at locations throughout the city. On Monday, officers responded to those complaints by citing and arresting violators. They made numerous arrests at Kearney and U.S. 65, Kearney and Glenstone, Kansas Expressway and I-44.

Larry Wells carries a sign that says “homeless with Jesus.” He says people often stop at intersections to give him money. “I have people stop and say ‘I love your sign, here,’” Wells said. The homeless man says he is heading west. “I don't want to do this. My mother would roll over in her grave if she saw me but I'm going to eat and I'm not going to steal,” Wells said. “What's left? It's a job you stand there with a sign.”

Because of complaints, officers in unmarked cars patrolled areas known to attract panhandlers. Wells says he saw officers arrest four people near Kansas Expressway and I-44. “I just happened to be up there drinking a cup of coffee. I saw it all happen,” Wells said. “They come up to me afterward and said ‘we know who you are. Next time you are going too.’” Officers placed another man in cuffs off Glenstone Avenue.

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Business owners say they want to make sure their customers feel comfortable and are not intimidated by people soliciting money. “One of the biggest things is the going through trash,” Jeff Lamontia said. “There is some panhandling that does happen out in the front or even in the parking lot.” Lamontia works for the Missouri Council of the Blind’s thrift store near Kansas Expressway and I-44. “Keeping everything clean and keeping it orderly,” Lamontia said is the main concern.

Wells says some solicitors do cross the line. “If you step out in the middle of the street or harass people you need to be gone any way because you're stupid,” Wells said. He also agrees some panhandlers are scam artists. “I would say there is a percentage of guys who are.”

Wells says he understands the law but has been arrested. “Officer A will drive by and wave at you. Officer B will drive by and give you a dollar,” Wells said. “Officer C will pull over and write you a ticket. Officer D will take you to jail.”

Employees at nearby businesses say they support officers’ efforts to crack down on aggressive panhandling. “I think it's wonderful,” Lamontia said. “I think it's wonderful for the whole shopping center.”

According to Springfield's city ordinance it's illegal to "aggressively solicit" money. The ordinance says that aggressive solicitation includes approaching or following pedestrians, repetitive requests for money, unwanted touching or blocking traffic.

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