Ottawa Police say they’re doing enough to combat panhandling in the heart of the city.
“We have officers in the downtown core on a daily basis who do enforcement on these issues and other issues,” said Insp. Uday Jaswal from the central district, adding they’re often on foot.
“Having said that, we need to prioritize how we use policing resources. There’s lots of issues that impact the community.”
From Jan. 1 to July 31, roughly 348 tickets and warnings were issued in Ottawa.
Last year, 850 were written and 925 were doled out in 2009.
But the declining numbers don’t mean police aren’t doing their job, says Jaswal.
“Panhandling is not illegal,” he said. “The Safe Streets Act does not prohibit panhandling. It prohibits aggressive panhandling and panhandling in certain locations.”
Aggressive behaviour, according to the Act, means “a manner that is likely to cause a reasonable person to be concerned for his or her safety or security.”
Examples include threatening a person physically, verbally, or by gesture, using abusive language, following someone, asking for money while drunk or high, and making persistent requests.
Panhandlers can’t solicit to a captive audience.
That list includes people at ATMs, pay phones, taxi or transit stops, public washrooms and stopped cars on the road.
The most popular location for panhandlers is along King Edward Ave. at Murray St.
Yet Coun. Mathieu Fleury said his office rarely gets complaints about panhandling.
“What we get complaints about is drug exchanges,” he said.
Fleury acknowledges there’s a mix of people in the neighbourhood.
“We’re struggling every day to make sure that the area is safe,” said Fleury.
“Our main issue here is people’s safety.”
Panhandling, Jaswal said, is often symptomatic of larger social issues, such as homelessness.
“People don’t choose to panhandle,” he said.
“There’s other reasons why they get to that point.”
And he expresses concerns about banning panhandling outright in certain areas.
“I frankly don’t know if that’s the number one issue here,” he said, adding a ban might just push panhandlers into the Byward Market or other popular spots.
Overall, Fleury said he thinks police “do a great job,” however, “we need more on-street presence.”
Seeing officers walking around and riding bikes, as opposed to driving cruisers, could “make people think twice about selling drugs,” he said.