DURHAM — Street people in Durham looking for a free handout may soon have to change their approach. Bull City leaders want to put a stop to aggressive panhandlers.
Panhandling is only illegal if a person feels threatened or intimidated into giving someone money. A new law on the books in Durham makes it easier to prosecute panhandlers who cross that line.
Carolyn Pipkin says she was approached by a panhandler as she left her office in Brightleaf Square one evening. As a property manager, she says the beggars are bad for business.
"He did want to ask me for money. It did disturb me. It upset me," says Pipkin. "It's very intimidating for people that want to come in our restaurants."
Durham police say most panhandlers are harmless. But aggressive panhandlers are more likely to go to jail under a new law which bans begging near cash machines and bus stops.
The law also helps police and victims define when a panhandler has gone too far.
"The new ordinance focuses more on the actions of the perpetrator, whether they repeatedly ask, or whether they block the path of a person," says Lt. Ed Sarvis of the Durham Police Department.
One Ninth Street restaurant manager says beggars do not belong in jail. He often feeds them in exchange for working odd jobs.
"He picks up the trash in the parking lot and after he gets done we give him a couple of dollars. That would help him build confidence," says Jay Mehdian of George's Garage.
Durham police agree jail is not necessarily the best place for panhandlers. Officers will try to steer them toward resources like local shelters where they can get some help.