Indianapolis plans crackdown on aggressive panhandling downtown

Mayor, Chamber of Commerce, merchants collaborate

INDIANAPOLIS - Metro police call aggressive panhandling in downtown Indianapolis one of their toughest quality-of-life problems.

City officials admit that efforts to control illegal and aggressive panhandling, especially downtown, have failed.

For months, the mayor's office, the Chamber of Commerce and downtown merchants have quietly worked on a solution to deal with this issue, and the city will roll out a new panhandling ordinance in the coming weeks.

While the largesse of sympathetic people has put money into the cups of the so-called homeless, panhandlers have had a negative impact on the city's image to the point where it has also impacted downtown's bottom line.

"It's also something that is starting to have an impact on tourism, visitors, people wanting to come, live downtown, and also economic development," said Marc Lotter, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard's office.

According to social service agencies, multiple surveys show that only 1 percent of the so-called homeless panhandling in downtown Indianapolis are truly homeless. Many have turned panhandling into a profession.

The city has tried to discourage people from enabling panhandlers by installing donation boxes across downtown, but it hasn't helped.

Police say the problem has escalated from irritating to alarming.

"Most people don't want to be approached by someone begging," said Karen Arnett, commander of IMPD's downtown district. "And most times, the people that are panhandling are intoxicated and some have mental issues, and so it becomes an aggressive issue."

Curbing panhandling has proved a slippery slope for many cities across the country that have discovered that free speech for some comes at a price for another.

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