Lexington police have seen a rise in small panhandling groups coordinating their begging efforts around the city.
These groups of two-to-four people are not new but their frequency has increased since February, when the state Supreme Court stuck down a local ordinance prohibiting panhandling.
The insight into panhandling behavior was provided Thursday afternoon at a press conference held downtown by Mayor Jim Gray and Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard.
“I’ve witnessed it myself in Hamburg,” Barnard said. “Where they cross the intersections and the male and the female switch sides and they have someone else come in.”
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Barnard emphasized that if people in Lexington feel threatened at any time from panhandlers, call 911. Gray echoed this sentiment and discussed a new ordinance being developed to address pedestrian safety. The ordinance will be discussed at a council committee meeting on May 2.
“No one has to beg in Lexington to find food and shelter,” Gray said. “If you need to help someone, do not give them cash. Give appropriately. Our citizens are charitable but this level of panhandling we’re experiencing today, this surge, represents not something we’re accustomed to and that’s why we’re getting our arms around it.”
Barnard would not address how many panhandling-related complaints have been made to police, but there has been an increase. But teams of officers have stepped up patrols, Barnard said.
The city has also distributed thousands of fliers that encourage people not to give to panhandlers but instead to direct panhandlers to social service agencies that provide food, clothing, housing and employment opportunities.
Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso