• Police crack down on homeless panhandlers in downtown Orlando


    ORLANDO, Fla. - The homeless problem in downtown Orlando has gotten so severe, police have put together a special detail.

    WFTV's Daralene Jones learned they'll be arresting panhandlers, and others who harass residents.

    Not long ago, the city installed collection meters downtown to try to stop the panhandling. They did, but the meters don't bring in much money, which goes to agencies that help the homeless.

    John Potter, a server at Metro Espresso Pizza, said he loves everything about working and living downtown, except the homeless problem.

    "People sitting at tables, trying to enjoy a meal and they're getting accosted by people wanting money or a cigarette," said Potter.

    Potter said that even worse than that, the patio furniture outside has become an open invitation for the homeless to sleep out front overnight.

    Other business owners show up in the morning to find urine and feces outside their front doors.

    "All of the furniture out here, either you have to tie it up, or it has to come inside," said Potter.

    The complaints from downtown business owners and residents have hit city hall.

    WFTV found out Orlando police have initiated what they're calling a "transient detail."

    In their down time, while on duty, officers are going after the aggressive panhandlers.

    Already, in six months, there have been more than 170 arrests.

    "Some people feel like maybe you're picking on the homeless," Jones told Orlando police Sgt. Vince Ogburn.

    "We're not picking on the homeless by no means. We are sensitive to the homeless issue; we have the coalition down the street," said Ogburn.

    And city officials said they have blue boxes all over downtown that are designated areas where the homeless are legally allowed to panhandle. They only get arrested when they wander outside of these boxes.

    "How long does that last? They're out in two days and at it again. There's got to be a better way," said Orlando resident Cheryl Beattie.

    WFTV found out from the city that a lot of the people who get arrested for panhandling are arrested over and over again.

    It's a city ordinance violation, so sometimes they're released on their own recognizance or the bond is only about $200.

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