MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The new Tennessee law targeting panhandlers is working — Memphis Police said 45 people have been arrested since the law was put in place July 1, and of those arrests, 26 are repeat offenders.
With the new law in place, if panhandlers continue to be aggressive, they can be taken to jail instead of just getting a misdemeanor.
Police said they have plainclothes officers working the streets. The Downtown Memphis Commission said there are also two officers on bikes patrolling during the week, and that number goes up on Thursday through Sunday when are four.
“Certain stretches they’ll hop out and holler at you a little bit,” said Mike Jones, who works downtown.
He said he frequently comes across panhandlers. He said they don’t bother him for the most part, but sometimes they can get too pushy.
One recent arrest was Joe Franklin.
Police said Franklin tried to get money from a plainclothes officer at Third Street and Union Avenue. When the officer told him he didn’t have any money, Franklin blocked the officer’s path and asked again.
The officer gave him a misdemeanor citation.
A few days later, police said he pulled the same stunt, but this time he was taken to Shelby County Jail.
“We’ve noticed a significant decrease in the number of panhandling issues we’ve had to deal with,” said Debra Streeter, who handles security downtown.
Aggressive panhandling means the accused panhandler touched, blocked the path of or followed the person they asked for money.
But some, like Jones, wonder if the punishment really works.
“If they don’t have anything, I don’t know what fining them and putting them in jail is going to be to deter them,” he said.
Streeter said July is a time panhandlers usually prey on tourists. She said she is dealing with less issues because frequent offenders know they could go to jail.
“I think it’s a deterrent of course — it’s a little bit more than a $50 fine,” Streeter said.
Amjad Salem, who works at Jack’s Food Store downtown said it’s good so far, but he’s waiting to see if it lasts in the long run.
“I think it’s good, and I hope it works, but I think it takes time,” he said.