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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Panhandlers making $110,000 per year in Edmonton, Canada

The City of Edmonton is moving forward on its crackdown on aggressive panhandlers, a group of about 20 or 30 people who police estimate were responsible for 90 per cent of the complaints they received last year.

"I know of one individual that lives in a high-rise downtown," Edmonton police Insp. Brian Nowlan said Monday. "He makes about $400 a day panhandling, so this is a way of making an income."

Nowlan appeared Monday before the city's community services committee to speak in favour of bylaw amendments that would make it easier for police to ticket aggressive panhandlers.

"This bylaw is aimed at that core group — hardcore professional panhandlers, people that make a living off this," Nowlan said.

On Monday, the city's community services committee recommended sending those amendments to council for consideration.

The amendments come as police look for ways to crack down on aggressive panhandling, a problem they said has gotten worse in the past year.

In 2008, police received 181 complaints about aggressive panhandling, a 118 per cent increase from 2007.

However, under the current bylaws, police have to prove a panhandler is obstructing pedestrian traffic in order to issue a ticket.

Criminal laws called ineffective

Criminal laws don't work well either, Nowlan said.

"They're very difficult to prosecute in the absence of actually witnessing it. The bylaw is the answer," he said.

The amendments would make it illegal for anyone to panhandle in an aggressive manner, including making continual requests or insulting, threatening, coercing, obstructing passage or making physical contact with another person.

Police are proposing a fine of $250, but have suggested the city look at options for people who can't afford to pay it.

"There's ways to make a living in this city and there's ways not to make a living and hopefully this bylaw will deal with those people who are not obeying the law," Mayor Stephen Mandel said.

The committee has also suggested a public education program accompany the bylaw. Members also asked city administration to complete a report on alternative methods of dealing with people who panhandle by April.

Nowlan thinks a fine will be effective, particularly for the $400-a-day downtown panhandler.

"You betcha he's going to be impacted when he gets a $250 summons," Nowlan said. "He'll either relocate or try to get a job."