Panhandling in Annapolis Not just Baltimore

Even small cities can have this problem. It begs a no-nonsense response.

November 15, 1995

AGGRESSIVE PANHANDLING isn't just a big city problem. As Baltimore considers tough new measures for dealing with persistent, sometimes abusive, beggars, panhandlers are becoming a king-sized nuisance in Annapolis as well. Especially in the City Dock area and on West Street, merchants say panhandling has become more frequent and aggressive, with beggars sometimes following customers into stores, hassling patrons at outdoor cafes and swiping tips from cafe tables. Left unchecked, such harrassment could discourage visitors from touring in Annapolis -- the last thing the state capital needs.

Experience in other places shows that the best deterrent to aggressive panhandling -- as well as public drunkenness, vandalism and other misbehavior -- is a strong, no-nonsense, no-tolerance stance from city leaders. The best-known recent example is in New York, where Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has reduced crime rates drastically with a get-tough policy on all types of crimes. The solution doesn't lie merely with more arrests; police and prosecutors in most cities, large and small, don't have the resources to go after every two-bit miscreant.

Law enforcement must be coupled with other efforts to create as inhospitable and intimidating a climate as possible for nuisance beggars and other troublemakers. It may sound overly simplistic, but one of the most effective tools mayors and other city officials possess is a voice of authority. They should use it to state loudly and clearly that misbehavior will not be tolerated; to encourage merchants and customers to summon police when beggars refuse to take "no" for an answer; to direct police to be less tolerant of troublesome panhandlers, and to exhort the public to discourage aggressive beggars by not giving them money.

In Baltimore, it's not unusual for pedestrians walking around the Inner Harbor to be accosted several times. Mayor Kurt Schmoke realizes that without tougher enforcement downtown business, and the city's reputation, will suffer. Annapolis' problem is not in this league -- yet. But the principle is the same. Even more so than big cities, where visitors expect to see some of society's underside, Annapolis thrives on its charming image. The time for city leaders to start driving out troublemakers is now, before the problem gets worse.

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