Panhandler arrested for being aggressive
TAMPA – A Riverview woman says she never wants to see another panhandler. Rachel Smith says she experienced aggressive panhandling while driving.
“He could’ve had a gun. I don’t know. I don’t know,” Smith said.
Smith stopped at a red light at Fowler and 30th in Tampa Sunday on her way to church. A panhandler came right up to her window. Smith tried to avoid eye contact, but she says that didn’t work.
“He started tapping on my window, just tapping on my window, yelling ‘Ma’am, can you give me three cent!’ I said ‘I don’t have three cent, sir,” recounted Smith.
Police say Brian Childress refused to take no for an answer.
“Just three cent! Just three cent! That’s all I need. Can you please give me three cent!” Smith said.
Smith says Childress started banging on her window. The traffic light wouldn’t change. Afraid, Smith’s friend in the passenger seat dug up ten cents.
“I kinda cracked my window and said ‘take the ten cent. Take it. Go, go,” she said.
An officer happened to see the commotion. She arrested Childress for aggressive solicitation. Police say he then repeatedly threatened to kill the officer.
Childress has been arrested 23 times in Hillsborough County for various offenses, including domestic violence and burglary. Tampa police say their contact with panhandlers has almost doubled since St. Petersburg banned begging earlier this year. The department says there are safety issues.
“We’ve had several minor accidents. We’ve had a lot of near misses, and we fear that it’s just a matter of time until we end up with a very serious accident and possibly a fatality,” said Tampa Police Spokesperson Laura McElroy.
Tampa City Council recently rejected the idea of making solicitation illegal. There is concern that a ban would probably also have to apply to newspaper vendors.
Wednesday afternoon, community leaders will get together to discuss the growing problem of panhandling and what to do about it.