Memphis committee approves panhandling crackdown - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis committee approves panhandling crackdown

Wednesday, a committee for the Center City Commission in Memphis approved hiring a private security force to patrol parts of downtown in an effort to curb aggressive panhandling.

The Safety and Security Committee approved hiring Memphis-based CDA Inc. to patrol for three months beginning April 30, the start of the city's tourist season.

The Commission's Jeff Sanford said Thursday that aggressive panhandling hurts business.

"Uniformed presence walking on the streets, walking on the beat, if you will, acts as a deterrent to aggressive panhandling and other pettit criminal activities," he said.

The plan is estimated to cost $53,340 and still must be approved by the full CCC board, which will vote Friday.  Not everyone is happy about it.

"This private security force is really nothing more than a smokescreen for the increasing criminalization of the poor in downtown Memphis," said Jacob Flowers of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

Flowers planned to fight strongly against the plan.  "They have to panhandle to get into the shelter, because Memphis does not have a free shelter," he said.

Sanford said the plan did not target the homeless.

"We're talking about aggressive panhandlers, 99 percent of whom are not homeless," he said.

But Flowers argues the money could be spent more constructively.

"We don't need programs that funnel poor people into the jail system," he said. "We need programs that funnel them into the social services that they need."

The meeting Wednesday came after a growing number of downtown residents, business owners and civic leaders said panhandling was growing out of control.

If the program works as the Center City Commission plans, they'll seek funding to keep it going.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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