Downtown panhandling complaints

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

An uptick in panhandling around Main Street has resulted in more than 30 calls to the Smithfield Police Department in the last few months. 

Due to the constitutional right of free speech, the act itself is not illegal, according to Smithfield Deputy Police Chief Matthew Rogers. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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“We were getting a series of calls on the couple of individuals that were doing it,” said Rogers on April 5, citing complaints from Grace and Cedar street residents and businesses. He said that while the police department responds to complaints of panhandling, arrests can’t be made because of the act itself.  

However, Rogers said that acts that often go along with panhandling — like blocking roadways or becoming physically aggressive with members of the public — are illegal and should be reported. 

Loitering on public grounds is also illegal under a town ordinance, and Rogers said that in those cases involving panhandlers, police can take more authoritative actions. 

Rogers said that two individuals around town are responsible for the recent uptick, but did not identify them since the act is lawful. He also said that they had not been violent in their actions.

When approached by a panhandler, Rogers suggested not confronting the person or getting involved at all. 

Since police have been responding to the complaints, the panhandling problem has diminished significantly, said Rogers.  {/mprestriction}



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