Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Cops go undercover to collar panhandlers

Police are going undercover to nab panhandlers downtown, a practice which puts Orlando on a very short list of cities nationwide that routinely use undercover cops against panhandlers.

The city has made 186 panhandling arrests since Oct. 1, more than half of them by "decoy teams" of plainclothes officers who wait near a suspected beggar until they are asked for money, food, a cigarette or anything else of value.

"Don't they have something better to do with their time?" asked George Crossley, head of the local chapter of the ACLU. "There have been 37 murders in Orlando this year,* and they're out there using plainclothes officers to run sting operations on panhandlers. It would be nice if they focus on that rather than on throwing someone in jail for asking for food or money."

Read the Orlando Sentinel story here.

The undercover operations – which have been going on for at least 2½ years but just came to light this week – are coming under scrutiny as the debate over the homeless in the City Beautiful heats up. But don’t get confused; most homeless people don’t panhandle, and many panhandlers aren’t homeless.

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* Little more than 7 months into the year, there already have been 37 murders, the most ever recorded in Orlando. The previous record of 36 murders dates to 1982.