Beach Officials Handling "Aggressive Panhandling"

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PANAMA CITY BEACH-- Later this month, a new law may be in effect to curb an "aggressive panhandling" problem in Panama City Beach. Officials say aggressive panhandling is when someone won't let you pass without giving them money, or basically extortion. Officers respond to about 10 of these types of calls a week.

Panama City Beach Police and Beach City Council members say there's a big difference between panhandling and aggressive panhandling.

"When they [panhandlers] become aggressive to make someone feel uncomfortable that's what we consider aggressive," Panama City Beach City Manager Mario Gisbert said. Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman adds, "It's not against the law to ask people for help or anything like that."

There are three areas on the beach where police say you'll likely come in contact with aggressive panhandlers. The first, in front of liquor stores. Whitman says, "They will approach younger kids or the younger kids will approach the older guy to to have them try and buy the alcohol for either exchange of money or alcohol."

Second, in the parking lot of major shopping stores like, Wal-Mart or Windixie. Police say they've seen several cases where two panhandlers work together.

They say it's a tactic to overwhelm a woman with a child in the backseat. One will step in-between the mom and her child while the other begs for money.

"They feel uneasy they feel uncomfortable. They are blocking your child, or blocking the entrance to your car. So it's basically extortion; they will give them money just to get them away from them," Whitman said.

Finally, there's beach access areas. Aggressive panhandlers will stand at the beach accesses begging for money or beer intimidating a lot of the families - another form of extortion.

Gisbert says, "We do have an ordinances that have been adopted in the last four months that restrict people form just hanging out on the beach accesses."

City officials hope to pass a law soon, making aggressive panhandling illegal in the beach.

"We don't really have a whole lot of it. So I think that we are addressing it property or the minimal problem that we currently have so that it doesn't grow and become a big issue for us," Gisbert concludes.

On August 28, Panama City Beach City Council members say they will vote to make aggressively panhandling illegal in Panama City Beach.