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Travel News

Atlanta police make 40 panhandling arrests

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Atlanta police officers are dressing up just like sightseers who come to Atlanta to wander through Centennial Olympic Park or locals who work in Midtown highrises.

Atlanta police officers are dressing up just like sightseers who come to Atlanta to wander through Centennial Olympic Park or locals who work in Midtown highrises.

All in the name of catching people who beg for money and won’t take no for an answer.

Since Aug. 2, Atlanta police officers have gone undercover and arrested 44 panhandlers and warned 51 others about the law when it comes aggressive panhandling in the city.

It’s part of a 30-day crackdown, focusing on the Peachtree Corridor between downtown and Midtown, in which officers used hidden cameras to catch panhandlers.

Homeless people and down-on-their-luck sorts are allowed to ask people for money, but they can only do it once and they can’t get aggressive, said Maj. Khirus Williams, commander of the police zone that includes downtown and Midtown.

Since 2005, verbal begging has been illegal in downtown’s so-called “tourist triangle” — it extends from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive north to Ralph McGill Boulevard and from Marietta Street east to Piedmont Avenue — but it has remained a persistent issue there.

Williams said he decided to put together a panhandling crackdown because complaints have been pouring in to his office daily He said he’s received letters from visitors who said the begging was so bad that they were never going to come back to Atlanta.

“It was staggering and I felt that we were obligated to formulate a plan and implement it,” Williams said.

But Williams decided to put a new twist on an old operation.

In the past, when Atlanta police have arrested panhandlers, the victims in many of the cases have been tourists who didn’t return to testify in court, Williams said. By having officers pose as tourists or office workers, they will be the ones who show up in court, hopefully resulting in more convictions, Williams said.

And, to make their cases even stronger, the officers were equipped with hidden cameras to catch the begging on tape, Williams said.

Once they went undercover, it was a target-rich environment.

“They were accosted as soon as they went out there in the field,” he said.

Police have not gone a day without making an arrest; on Friday, they had four halfway through the afternoon, Williams said.