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SPECIAL REPORT: Repeat Panhandling Offenders
DAYTON -- As the holiday season approaches, we'll be hearing Salvation Army bell ringers and other calls to charity. But panhandlers can seem more threatening, especially when they are repeat offenders.
"He asked us if we had any money and we were all holding our wallets, like sorry no," said Molly McGonigle of Dayton.
"We were just caught off guard. We didn't know him. It was just an odd experience," Molly's friend Nicole Drake said.
Dayton adopted its first panhandling law in 2004, but it didn't really have teeth until last year. Now police can arrest panhandlers who are standing on interstate ramps and other areas that could be distracting to drivers.
"It got really, really bad for a long time. In fact, I was calling the police on a daily basis," said Dayton homeowner Karen Vallance.
Vallance says the tougher law is working. She used to have panhandlers in front of her Dayton home every day. They're gone now, but she says they're still at it, just in less conspicuous areas and nearby suburbs.
"There is no quick fix. How do you fix it? You can't," Vallance
"A lot of people for a lot of different reasons resort to panhandling and I don't think it's going to go away any time soon," said Dayton Municipal Judge John Pickrel.
Pickrel deals with panhandling cases all the time. It's a fourth degree misdemeanor, which means after a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine, the panhandler is back out on the street. Clayton Peck is a regular in Judge Pickrel's court. His rap sheet is 22 pages long and many times he's charged with aggressive panhandling.
"Aggressive panhandlers are a problem, they scare people, especially women," Pickrel said.
But surprisingly, aggressive panhandling carries the same penalty as a standard panhandling charge. We tried to catch up with Peck. The problem is, within days of getting out of jail, he gets thrown back in for panhandling. The judge says he's offered Peck housing and job assistance but he doesn't want the help.
"If they don't want to work or go to the jobs center than the ordinance isn't going to do any good. The only thing they can do is arrest them over and over and over again. I guess the question is how many times can they be arrested and let back out on the street before they're taken somewhere where they're gone for a long time," Vallance said.
Under current law, you can get arrested for panhandling an unlimited number of times without the fear of prison time, just a short stint in jail and hope from the legal system that repeat offenders like Peck eventually get sick of the revolving jailhouse door.
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