Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tampa Police made 281 arrests for panhandling since new ordinance went into effect

TPD Officer Dan McDonald called the results "encouraging."

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 12:37 PM

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Since the Tampa City Council enacted an ordinance allowing police officers to arrest anyone they see sleeping or storing personal property in public in downtown Tampa, Ybor City and parts of West Tampa, there have been only five arrests for public urination, three for camping, and none for public sleeping or storing things.

But another new ordinance that bans panhandling in downtown and Ybor City, as well as near banks, ATMs, sidewalk cafes and bus or trolley stops, has resulted in 281 arrests.

Those statistics came via an official from the Tampa Police Department, who was speaking in front of the City Council Thursday morning.

The crackdown came after Tampa's passage of two new ordinances in July of 2013, one of which banned sleeping and urinating in public, the other expanding a 2011 ordinance that banned panhandling on city streets for six days a week, though it allowed an exception for those selling newspapers.

Tampa Police Officer Dan McDonald called the results "encouraging." He said that these days, the greatest number of complaints about the homeless congregating come from downtown Tampa, Tampa Heights and the V.M. Ybor neighborhood.

City Councilman Frank Reddick asked if that meant that the homeless were now going to other parts of the city, but McDonald said those regions were the largest centers for the homeless to be.

Two years ago residents in the V.M. Ybor area of Tampa rallied unsuccessfully to prevent the Trinity Cafe from moving into the neighborhood. The Cafe provides meals to the homeless, and concerned citizens feared that the move would disrupt the neighborhood.

But Officer McDonald told the Council that there's barely been any change at all in terms of calls for service to the TPD. "There is a lot of foot traffic up Nebraska (Avenue), but in terms of calls to service it seems to be neutral," he said.

McDonald is assigned exclusively by the department to work with the homeless. He told Council that the new regulations are "making a dent in the chronic homeless population," and that the reason for the relatively low arrest figures is that the officers in the department have gone "above and beyond" in warning and educating potential violators of the consequences of being arrested.

McDonald said that an initial training of TPD officers on how to deal with the homeless and the new ordinances had been concentrated in downtown, East Tampa and Ybor City, but now would move over to South and West Tampa.

In response to the charge last summer that the city is "criminalizing the homeless," Mayor Buckhorn said, "We're criminalizing public urination, and we're criminalizing sleeping in the park and all the other things that [don't] affect 99.9 percent of the people."

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