Yesterday at 4:30 p.m., a homeless man lay on his back on the sidewalk of Library Mall as sirens from a fire truck and ambulance drew near. This individual, who was complaining of breathing problems and an oncoming heart attack, was no stranger to the Madison Police, according to one of the officers on the scene. As the paramedics arrived on the street corner, Sgt. Chuck Weiss commented on how this type of incident is common in the downtown area.
“We have several calls dealing with the homeless and panhandling issues of Madison each and every day,” Weiss said.
According to Weiss, this happening is just one of the many incidents police officers deal with on a daily basis in the State Street area. Aggressive panhandlers are frequently phoned in by State Street businesses, according to police officials. What baffles the Madison-area police is the reason for the recent surge in panhandling incidents. “Clearly, I don’t think that there is any need for people to be panhandling in the Madison area at all,” Weiss said. “Madison offers plenty of social services that both the homeless and panhandling communities of Madison could be taking advantage of.”
Madison mayor Sue Bauman’s meeting on the panhandling issue earlier this month highlighted the current discussion over the situation on State Street.
City officials, including Bauman; Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4; Madison Police Chief Richard Williams; Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc.; and Enis Ragland, Bauman’s chief of staff, met Sept. 6 and discussed possible remedies to State Street’s panhandling problem.
This meeting discussed the various techniques currently being utilized to ameliorate the situation, as well as future ideas to stop aggressive panhandling. Presently, Madison City Ordinance 24.12 holds legality over aggressive panhandling in Madison.
According to ordinance 24.12, the behavior of a panhandler can be interpreted as “aggressive” or “intimidating” if a reasonably cautious individual could be frightened from passing through or remaining in any place open to the public due to anxiety, fear or misgiving while the panhandler is present.
Police officials deal with those individuals that pose a definite threat by following the provisions of the panhandling ordinance. The provisions in the ordinance allow for the ticketing as well as the possible detainment of those caught in aggressive panhandling activities.
However, not every panhandler on State Street is viewed as aggressive, according to Lt. Stephanie Bradley Wilson of the Madison-area police.
“Panhandling is not illegal at all in Madison,” Wilson said. “It’s the aggressive panhandling in the area that gives cause for arrest.”
Wilson says arrests have been made in regard to aggressive panhandling, although she is unsure of the exact number.
Whether it is one or 100 panhandlers that are the cause of the concern, the continuing problems of aggressive panhandling need to be addressed, according to city officials. Mayor Bauman’s committee on the panhandling issue will soon be put into action, and when it is, police and city officials hope to put a stop to State Street’s lingering problem.