WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - When it comes to the law enforcement side of panhandling there are two types flying a sign: the new to the corner and oblivious versus the experienced "eagle eyes."
The longer they've been out there, the more times they been warned or given a ticket and subsequently, the better they are at avoiding the police.
"A lot of cops are like, it's pointless to give you a fine because you're not going to pay it," shrugged Elizabeth, a panhandler. "A couple cops do because they know how much money we make and it makes them mad because we make more money than they do!"
While riding along with police, there seemed to be a consistent sequence of events.
The panhandler, fixated on the potential money in front of him/her, does not immediately see the marked car approaching. The second they make eye contact there's a dramatic effort to bail out of sight or hide the sign.
The experienced panhandlers know to make smaller signs folded into thirds – easier to fold and tuck into their shirt or pants.
"When they get caught that's when the eye rolls come in. They drop the sign, stick it in a bush or fold it up and put it in their pocket and try to walk away like they weren't doing anything," said WPD Officer Josh Tranthum.
The City of Wilmington revised the panhandling ordinance in 2009 to ban solicitation: in an aggressive manner, within 15 ft of a bank or ATM entrance/exit, on private property (without permission), from any driver or passenger on a public street, at sidewalk cafes, in the median of any street, on the Riverwalk or at street corners, and several other areas.
"What we noticed almost immediately was people coming on the bus routes and getting off in the Monkey Junction area," said business owner David Ray. "It's been a huge explosion. Ten years ago it was unseen to panhandle in the area."
Speaking candidly of the transient population now living and panhandling around his business, Ray was concerned there would be retaliation.
"It seems that it's much more socially acceptable now to live on the fringe of society and panhandle for a living and live in a tent," Ray said.
Particularly irritating to Ray is the male/female panhandling partnership that puts the woman (sometimes pregnant) to work while the man sits off to the side to act as look out.
He's made it his personal mission to approach the homeless camps surrounding his business where some of the panhandlers sleep. Over time he's heard their stories and seen the tactics they use to make a living.
In the County, the enforcement of panhandling is far less strict, and Ray says the panhandlers have absolutely figured that out.
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