Georgetown Mayor wants panhandling issue to improve; Community reacts to potential problem
GEORGETOWN, Del. – The mayor of Georgetown is fired up and if a recent Facebook post is any indication, he is ready to tackle a growing problem.
Panhandling is at the forefront for Mayor Bill West. 47 ABC spoke to him Monday and he says as the mayor, he feels responsible for the safety of his residents.
West tells me that he’s been seeing this problem more and more every day and that’s why he needed to speak out. According to his Facebook post, it says ‘this law deals with begging in a public place and it needs to stop or those responsible will be arrested.’ West says, “Saying we were going to arrest them it would probably prevent from some of them doing this illegal thing.”
He told 47 ABC that panhandling is a public safety concern and many of the men and women commenting on the mayor’s post seem to agree.
West says many businesses have come forward to complain.
Talesha Blanchard, Owner of All Rise Cafe says, “Every once in a while we may have somebody come in to ask change or one time we had someone ask a guest but we haven’t had an issues with panhandling.”
And while All Rise Cafe near the Georgetown Circle hasn’t been a target, community activist Jim Martin says this is happening more often than usual and he cites the opioid epidemic.
“99.9% of them the ones who are aggressively panhandling is for drugs and alcohol. People that are really looking for help are not panhandling they are reaching out here to get help,” Martin tells us.
And while Mayor West has suggested arrests, Martin believes there’s a better way to help the people who need it the most. “I agree that something needs to be done and I want to team up with the mayor and come up with a plan,” Martin states.
The Georgetown Police Department didn’t get on camera, but they did release a statement:
“The Town of Georgetown and Georgetown Police Department (GPD) wanted to take this opportunity to respond to recent Facebook commentary and concerns expressed over panhandling issues in Georgetown, and media coverage of the same. Facebook can be a useful forum for persons to freely exchange ideas and share their perspectives on many issues, however residents and the media should be aware that official Town and Police actions are taken solely on a case by case basis and in compliance with all applicable laws and ordinances. As to the issue of panhandling specifically, Delaware state statute does prohibit “loitering, remaining or wandering about in a public place for begging,” however the Town is aware there are many factors which cause and affect such conduct and, while arrest can be a tool in the arsenal of response, it is by no means the only, or default, option. Often persons involved with panhandling are dealing with mental health and/or substance abuse issues, or other personal hardships. The Town of Georgetown and Georgetown Police Department is proud of their efforts in proactively dealing with persons in crisis, including avoiding arrest, fines and incarceration when the public safety is not affected. Of course, public safety is paramount, and if anyone in Georgetown encounters a situation in which they feel threatened or unsafe, they should certainly contact GPD and/or 911, depending on the situation, and their call will be promptly addressed. As one recent example of the Town’s efforts to provide persons in crisis with resources which may divert them from crime, in January of this year, the Georgetown Police Department entered into a voluntary partnership with Connections Community Support Programs, Inc., in a program called “Police Connections Alliance – Sussex.” This program pairs a sworn police officer and a Master’s level clinician together to address persons they encounter who may be in crisis. The goal is to improve responses to people with mental health issues and/or co-occurring substance abuse disorders, encourage those persons to seek help voluntarily, facilitate such voluntary treatment, and follow-up with those individuals to track their progress. It is hoped that this diversion will have the dual effect of benefiting both the individuals in crisis, and avoiding potential criminal conduct or public safety concerns. GPD and the Town of Georgetown remain committed to providing uncompromising public safety while also respecting the needs and well-being of those they come into contact with, including persons in crisis.”