Elizabethtown Police posts signs discouraging donating to panhandlers


ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (WDRB) — The Elizabethtown Police Department is cracking down on panhandling but says that, legally, nothing can be done about it.


So officers are asking the public for help.


Since last year, panhandlers have been protected by a Kentucky Supreme Court decision that ruled ordinances against begging or soliciting were unconstitutional. One of those affected, James Jackson, said he’s been homeless for two years and spends every day panhandling at the entrance to the Towne Mall.


“I live out here,” Jackson said. “I sleep a lot of times under a bush over there.”


With the help of United Way Kentucky, the Elizabethtown Police Department began posting the signs Wednesday asking the public to stop giving money to panhandlers.


“Frankly, this is an area with a lot of generous people who like to give,” said Elizabethtown Police Officer John Thomas. “Panhandlers and solicitors talk to each other, and they figured out this is a good area for this kind of activity.”


Panhandling can be lucrative, depending on the location and time of year.


“We’ve had some panhandlers tell us on the side they make over $100 an hour, and it’s free … tax-free income,” Thomas said.


Some Elizabethtown residents said they see how it can be a difficult situation for police, but ultimately, it’s each person’s decision.


“It’s a mixed bag for me,” said Elizabethtown resident Ray Hensely. “If I’ve got an instinct the person’s legitimate, I don’t mind giving them a few dollars. And I feel for their plight.”


Police say, many times, the panhandlers misrepresent their situation to use the funds to support drug or alcohol addictions.


So the goal of the program is awareness and education. If police can’t enforce panhandling through the demand side, they want to fight it through lack of supply.


“We’re not hurting anyone out here,” Jackson said. “If you don’t want to give us anything … proceed on.”


This program does not have an expiration date. Officers said the signs will be staying up permanently.


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