JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There have been more than 1,100 calls to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to report panhandling around the city this year.
In March, Jacksonville City Council passed a bill to ban panhandling at intersections and on medians without a permit.
On Monday morning, the council met to discuss changes to the process and how it’s being enforced.
So far, in the three weeks since JSO has gone live with their enforcement of the plan, no one has applied for a permit that is now needed to ask drivers for money on the right-of-way of any public street or highway.
One of the areas getting a lot of calls is Jacksonville’s Southside, according to documents obtained by News4JAX.
A sign on Old St. Augustine Road at Interstate 295 reads, “Say no to panhandling. Contribute to the solution.”
“Some people, they need it. Some people are veterans, homeless and need a couple bucks. Some people don’t,” said Jacksonville resident Carlos Ruiz.
The city has plans in place, but people are still at intersections asking for money, like one man who was on Southside Boulevard on Monday holding a sign that said, “Anything helps, God Bless.” Legally, he’s not allowed.
News4JAX also saw a driver slow down to give a man food on Atlantic Boulevard. They aren’t allowed to do that either under the new law and he could be cited.
“I give all the time. Whatever change I have in here. They should not penalize the people who have a good heart,” Ruiz said.
Now city council members are making changes to the bill.
The ordinance includes two permits per applicant per year, and the time to solicit is now no more than three days during 12 hours of daylight.
There is also an indigency rule where the city will consider a person’s income, won’t require insurance and a provision to protect the city from liability. Those who apply and get accepted would be given a safety vest, a sign and learn traffic patterns to help protect them.
“I’m not surprised that we don’t have people coming down there filling out applications. I didn’t think that was going to happen. I know council members wanted to make sure that we had the opportunity for this to happen,” said Councilman Al Ferraro.
Ferraro said the concern is with intersections and the safety of people.
Hundreds of the more than 1,100 reports of panhandling in the city weren’t able to be verified by officers. Some calls meant the person was already gone. And in some of them, the person was told to stop. An officer wrote a report for just a few dozen of the calls.
“We haven’t got to an arrest for the violation itself. We’ve had some arrests for resisting with violence now because they’ve been given a lawful command to cooperate, but they haven’t. But that’s been minimal also,” said Ellis Burns, Chief of JSO’s Special Events Division.
Burns added that he’s seen a reduction in people at some intersections.
When someone does apply for an application, a notification is sent to all JSO substations so they know who the applicants are.
Burns said JSO tries to avoid arrests, but it is a tool it will use to keep the roads safe.
“One challenge that we face is pulling up to an intersection. They see a police car a lot of times they’ll take their sign, put it in their shirt and walk off. So we actually have to catch them in the intersection doing this,” Burns said.
Citizens are asked if they see a person without a sign or a vest to call JSO’s non-emergency line at 904-630-0500.
To apply for a “charitable solicitation on the right-of-way” permit, you can visit COJ.net.