The Lafayette Police Chief issued a memo Tuesday that threatens officers who don't enforce parish panhandling ordinances with discipline.
"Effective immediately, all uniformed Lafayette Police Officers, regardless of rank, shall enforce laws that restrict panhandling within the city limits of Lafayette. This includes patrol, patrol support, traffic, TNT and the Specialized Panhandling Detail," a memo dated July 27 states. "Specific officers enroute to other calls will contact the Watch Office with information regarding the panhandling. The Watch Commander's Office will be responsible for assuring proper response to the panhandler. Violations of this directive shall result in progressive discipline."
We reached out to Chief Thomas Glover Sr. and the Police Department to find out why this issue is at the forefront today. On social media, many questioned the timing and priority of the memo, given recent violence in Lafayette. Over the weekend, there were multiple shootings in the city, one of which resulted in a death, as well as a fatal stabbing.
In a statement released late Tuesday night following reports of the memo, Glover said the enforcement of pedestrian ordinances does not prevent the department from addressing other violations of the law. He goes on to say the department is not limited in its ability to perform one safety function at a time.
Glover's full statement is below:
"As the Chief of Police for the city of Lafayette, public safety is the number one priority. Recently, there have been a series of violent acts in the city of Lafayette that concern the citizens throughout the city. The Lafayette Police Department will diligently work non-stop to bring justice to any victim, or the family members of victims. We will aggressively identify, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who commit violent criminal acts in this city.
Over the past few weeks, in-depth collaboration with other law enforcement agencies has led to a team approach to rid our city of those who choose to commit violent acts. The multi-agency attack we utilize, involves a partnership with 9 other agencies that serve our city. It involves the apprehension of those on the most wanted list in Lafayette, aggressive prosecution at the state and federal level, as well as an interruption of activities that involve the illegal trafficking of arms, or other criminal enterprise.
The mission of the Lafayette Police Department also entails the safety of citizens who travel our busy streets. Just over a week ago, a traffic safety initiative began; the aim is to enforce our vitally important traffic laws. Additionally, the Lafayette Police Department increased the staffing of the police unit tasked with the primary function of enforcing the Driving While Intoxicated laws. Other initiatives designed to maintain a safe city include internal instructions to enforce our ordinances that protect pedestrians, solicitors, and individuals in roadways. The enforcement of our local pedestrian ordinances does not prevent our department from addressing other violations of the law. As a professional, welltrained police department, we are not limited in our ability to perform only one safety function at a time. In fact, on a daily basis we protect people, property, and our roadways. Your safety is our top priority, but we cannot be irresponsible by creating a dangerous environment for our officers by releasing details on our policing methods and patrol strategies. Please be assured that we are implementing strategies and techniques to rid the city of Lafayette of criminal elements regardless of the magnitude of the crime.
In the fulfillment of our duty to maintain a safe city, there will be absolute conformity to equal application of the law. As the Chief of Police, I respectfully request that we work together to move Lafayette forward, and to collectively eradicate any actions intended to derail the progress we have made in bridging the gap."
You can see the memo for yourself below.
Lafayette's Code of Ordinances forbid begging for money on private or residential property; within 50 feet of an ATM; anywhere in an aggressive manner and from anyone who is driving a car on a public street.
Here's the full ordinance:
Last month, Lafayette Consolidated Government posted signs asking citizens not to give money to panhandlers, but instead call 211.
"Panhandling is not safe. Change the way you give. Call 211 to help," the signs read.
Operators at 2-1-1 can direct callers to resources to help the homeless, people struggling with addiction, and others in need.
Also last month, the LPD held a press conference implying that panhandlers were drug dealers in disguise.
At that time, advocates for the homeless told KATC that these new anti-panhandling signs are very concerning.
"People in Acadiana are in need. Our neighbors are struggling," ARCH Executive Director Leigh Rachal says.
ARCH reports that since January of 2020, they have seen, conservatively, an 82% increase in homelessness, while concurrently, a dramatic decrease in available shelter beds due to concerns for community spread of COVID-19.
In October, an ARCH street survey showed that of those experiencing homelessness, 61% reported having to occasionally or often panhandle.
KATC reported on panhandling during the pandemic, you can see that story here.
"Panhandling is usually an activity engaged in as a last option to meet basic human needs of food and shelter."
ARCH says that in that survey, 67% of the participants reported COVID-19 and/or loss or reduction of employment income to be the cause of their homelessness.
Rachal says that they are sharing the information in order to combat the harmful narratives that most panhandlers are swindlers, make more money than those who are employed, or are from out of town.
"This simply is not true. When February brought freezing temperatures to our area, the need for shelter was even greater than anticipated," said Rachal.
"ARCH, in cooperation with partner agencies, and with the financial support of hundreds of generous community members, was able to provide temporary shelter to nearly 600 households who were literally homeless, housing insecure, or whose housing was simply inadequate to keep people safe from freezing temperatures," she adds.
But resources are scarce in comparison to the growing needs."
Rachal points out that while these new signs do give direction to help, there are just not enough resources to help everyone in need. She also says the signs will do nothing to prevent panhandling.
"While 232-HELP/211 is a valued partner and able to provide information for resources that are available within a community, the sad fact is that there are not currently enough resources to help everyone in need," said Rachal.
"Signage does not prevent panhandling," she said. "Laws and ordinances do not prevent panhandling. What prevents panhandling is a community comprised of social service organizations, government entities, philanthropic organizations, and individuals working collectively to meet the needs of ALL of its citizens.
"Investing in strategies that work to prevent and end homelessness is the smart use of taxpayer money and should be the strategy of choice."
ARCH provided ways for those who are interested in being a helping hand to their neighbors in need:
- Give financially: Sometimes this may mean giving directly to those in need. Other times it is best to give to a reputable nonprofit whose efforts you support. Each person should choose the manner of giving that is right for them.
- Invest your time: Attend ARCH monthly public meetings (4th Thursdays at noon via Zoom). Join ARCH Lives on Facebook (2nd Wednesdays at 6pm). Volunteer with a nonprofit or faith-based group that is doing good work. Plug in and participate in finding community solutions.
- Use your voice: Ask elected officials at the local, state, and national levels to provide resources to meet the basic needs of every citizen.
"Charities, and faith-based organizations cannot bear the burden of meeting the basic needs for food and shelter within a community," said Rachal.
"Individual donations are simply not ever going to be an adequate response to problems as complex and multi-faceted as housing instability and food insecurity," she said. "We must set policies and allocate funding to solutions.
"Nearly every faith, every culture, every philosophy teaches us the importance of loving our neighbors as ourselves," Rachal says. "We teach our children to be helpers, to sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria. This is our opportunity, our moment, to lead by example."