CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Police officers conducted an undercover operation Wednesday in an attempt to curb the panhandling problem in uptown Charlotte.
Police have said the panhandling issue is noticeable in certain parts of the city near bars and restaurants.
A couple officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department dressed in plain clothing Wednesday night to trek the streets of uptown. Their uniformed colleagues waited nearby to handcuff the panhandlers that tried to solicit money from the undercover officers.
However, arresting the panhandlers was not the main goal.
"We're having to change our approach. We've learned we can't arrest our way out of this issue," explained Officer Russ Faulkenberry with the CMPD
Wednesday night the officers brought the panhandlers to a new location in uptown. At that site was a collection of homeless resource workers, substance abuse professionals, and mental health specialists. Those professionals tried to make a connection with the panhandlers in hopes of getting them help.
"This allows us to get that person connected where he no longer has to struggle with that and he's in care," explained Faulkenberry.
Shelley Pruitt, a counselor with North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation, spoke with one of the panhandlers busted by police Wednesday. She offered him help for the future.
"He was very nice and very friendly. I just encouraged him to him to give me a call tomorrow. Our job is to help people go to work, get jobs and be able to sustain independence," said Pruitt.
Faulkenberry said that police officers spoke with eight different panhandlers Wednesday night. He said that only one person was taken to jail and that was for a warrant unrelated to panhandling. Faulkenberry said the rest of the panhandlers busted by police were issued citations. He said all of the people that the officers spoke with were able to connect with the professional workers.
Faulkenberry asked the public not to give the panhandlers money.
"Just say 'no'. If it becomes aggressive just call 9-1-1 and we'll come out and we'll deal with it," said Faulkenberry.