Keep those handouts: Panhandling is made a crime in more cities


Beijing took some heat in the press for sweeping its streets of the homeless before the Olympic circus came to town, but China's government isn't the only one trying to banish the disadvantaged from places where visitors tread.

According to the main Atlanta newspaper, the Journal-Constitution, cops have been trawling the streets this month dressed as tourists, hoping to catch panhandlers in the act of rustling up money. As of last week, 44 beggars have been arrested.

One of the police commanders in town explains that the frequency and intimidating style of local begging has gotten so bad that it's annoying tourists and scaring them away. And because most tourists who feel accosted by beggars don't return to town to testify, the city had to resort to using officers posing as tourists so that there would be someone around to tell it to the judge. The decoys are even rigged with hidden cameras.

Atlanta, which passed an ordinance three years ago that banned verbal panhandling in a restricted downtown area near the Georgia Aquarium, is far from the only city to place limits on begging. In the Peachtree City, beggars can usually get by silently holding a sign that asks for cash. But ask "aggressively" -- the interpretation, like the one for obscenity, is fluid -- and it's a crime.