Saturday, April 14, 2012

What is the Cost?

Posted by Jack

A friend of mine brought this article to my attention today, entitled "Panhandler arrested for 186th time." First, it should be noted that this individual has some serious addiction problems, and this is clearly a factor in his habitual begging. But it also brings to my mind an honest question. That question is as follows:

If we are arresting a panhandler 186 times for the same offense, and nothing about the situation is changing, isn't it time for a change in strategy? After all, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results.

Anti-begging laws have been big news in the Miami Valley lately, specifically because there has been a big push to crack down on beggars in many communities. (See this recent article, "More cities target panhandlers").

Frustration seems to be mounting, but a fresh strategy for dealing with beggars has failed to materialize.

Springfield Chief of Police Steve Moody acknowledges that the complex socioeconomic factors involved in the matter saying that drug addiction is often a factor in begging for money. "It is a quality of life issue," says Chief Moody.

In the article, which was about the pressure placed on the system by a small number of repeat offenders, Chief Moody also references frustration within the law enforcement community on this matter. Habitual offenders (specifically beggars) are expensive to deal with and are sometimes turned away from an over-crowded jail. Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly and Chief Moody wisely place priority on jail space for violent offenders. But this means that habitual begging offenders become taxing on an already stressed system.

It is reported that jailing an inmate costs $67 per day. Taking a misdemeanor to court in Clark County costs a minimum of $105, and even more, based on continuances, warrants, probation, subpoenas, witness fees, public defender application fees and other factors. Aside from that, the top 10 habitual offenders, some of whom are panhandlers, owe more than $20,700 total in unpaid court costs and fines.

Enforcing this anti-begging law comes with quite a price tag.

Police officers also express frustration in the area of begging enforcement. “It’s frustrating because you want to do other things,” said Police Officer Andrew Scott. “There are drug areas you have to work on, and traffic stops you have to make and you try to make neighborhoods nicer. But you can’t do it because you’re dealing with these guys down here.” (This quote is in reference to both habitual acts of begging and theft.)

There is a high cost to cracking down on beggars, but little gain. High recidivism, an over-taxed police force, and a lack of a clear strategy indicate that we are losing the "war on begging."

This begs the question: if the anti-begging ordinances on the books are not working as a deterrent, why are these laws the basis (and entirety) of our strategy?

Well, we are not ones to point fingers without offering solutions. What good is it to complain if we aren't able to engage the discussion meaningfully and offer new strategies? A small group of us are calling ourselves the Coalition of the Complicit. We'd like to see the anti-begging law in Springfield be repealed. Read more at illegaltoneed.com.

We will be hosting a strategy meeting soon to discuss the state of begging affairs in our community and develop some fresh ideas. Stay tuned for the date and time of this meeting!

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