Laney Walker merchants say panhandling worse after ordinance

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March 5, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---It's been one year since Augusta passed a law cracking down on aggressive panhandling in certain spots.

Downtown business owners say it's been effective...but folks in one area say begging has become a bigger problem.

Business owners at the Armstrong Galleria on Laney Walker say they were excited about the panhandling law because they thought it would help improve the image in the area. But they say things got worse because the law was never enforced, and now they're asking for help.

If you've been downtown lately, perhaps you've walked without being stopped by beggars.

"Compared to what it was a year and a half ago, its much better," downtown business owner Barry Blackston told News 12.

It's been one year since Augusta passed a panhandling law giving aggressive beggars the bum's rush downtown by making their acts a criminal offense.

But businesses in the Armstrong Galleria say begging there is bigger than ever.

"It's real aggressive," said Anthony Chandler, director of the Laney Walker Development Corporation. "They will come up to you and beg you continuously for money."

When the panhandling ordinance was passed, it was to include all of downtown and the Laney Walker area.

Chandler and the Galleria merchants say the loitering and panhandling that was cleaned up downtown has been swept into their area. They also say it's causing more crime.

"It's driving businesses off, driving customers off, our clients off," Chandler said.

Concerned merchants have been meeting with Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard. After checking out the problem, she agrees there's been a lack of police presence.

"But we'll handle it, and we're going to see a difference," she said.

Beard tells us she'll be meeting with Sheriff Strength and City Administrator Fred Russell to get something done fast.

It's help these folks say they'll need to improve an image and bring back business.

"We need some type of enforcement to come down here to handle this problem before it gets any worse," Chandler said.

There's no word on when that meeting being organized by Mayor Pro Tem Beard will take place, but Col. Gary Powell told me the sheriff's office will likely send their crime suppression team to the area.

Officers have not been arresting most of the panhandlers. They're typically given a warning, and authorities will take a picture of them. If a person is found to be aggressively begging again, they are charged with disorderly conduct.

Augusta passed its panhandling ban shortly after Atlanta passed a similar one.

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