Police address aggressive panhandling on campus

The University Police Department is working cooperatively with the Champaign Police Department in the Campustown business district to address aggressive panhandling.

“It’s a big issue right now,” said University police captain Skip Frost. “We’ve received a lot of comments through our website about aggressive panhandling and how it detracts from the University.”

In July, the Urbana City Council passed “an ordinance”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2011/08/urbana_city_council_passes_solicitation_ordinance opposing aggressive solicitation.

Julie Sauer, sophomore in AHS and former employee of Pita Pit, said she and other employees were often harassed by panhandlers while working.

“Most of the delivery drivers were harassed whenever they brought food down the street,” she said.

Sauer also said that she has witnessed some panhandlers become exceedingly aggressive, citing a time when a man refused to give a panhandler money while inside Pita Pit.

“I was a bit shocked at how he reacted; he was just so over the top angry because no one would give him money,” she said.

Frost said that such aggressive behavior hurts business in the area and makes people uncomfortable. He added it is essentially illegal behavior, as it classifies as harassment.

“If you try to intimidate or coerce someone into giving you money, instead of just asking, that’s against the law,” he said.

Ben Burrows, a man that spends time on Green Street asking passersby for money, said he feels like the police have been approaching him more.

“On a daily basis I’m being ran off,” Burrows said. “As long as I’m not intoxicated, and I’m not causing anybody any problems, I don’t see anything wrong with just trying to survive.”

Burrows said he lost his apartment and came to Champaign searching for work. He just recently succeeded in getting a bus pass this year.

He said that his efforts have been hindered lately by the police’s increased presence. Even if the officer does not ask him to leave, he said, it leaves a poor impression on those who pass by.

“When people see the police talking to me, I’m not going to get anything after that,” he said.

Burrows did agree, however, with the police’s decision to act against panhandlers who are extensively aggressive. He said he has seen aggressive actions by others, but doesn’t feel he’s a part of the problem.

“I’m not doing that (aggressive panhandling); I’m just sitting in one spot holding my cup out,” he said. “If someone gives me money, then great, if not, then I just tell them ‘Have a nice day’,” he said.

Sauer said that, despite her experience, panhandlers should still retain their rights.

“I think they should be able to ask for money, but not harass people,” she said.

Frost said, however, that when it comes to panhandling, police can never be sure who they may trust.

“(Officers) just don’t know whether this person on the street is an aggressive panhandler or not,” he said.