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Cape Coral police institute harsher panhandling penalties

Reporter: Nicole Lauren Writer: Joey Pellegrino

Cape Coral is considering measures to stop anyone from panhandling at intersections, on the grounds that the practice puts both drivers and panhandlers at risk by distracting the drivers from changing traffic lights.

That’s why the Cape Coral Police Department is modeling their panhandling ordinance after Lee County’s and cracking down with the stated goal of keeping people safe. Panhandlers can now face 60 days of jail time and $500 in fines.

“It’s not just the roadways; we’ve had calls in different parking lots, like Publix,” said CCPD Sgt. Pat O’Grady. “Near schools. They’re going to go anywhere there’s a high-traffic area.”

Cape Coral police admit enforcement of this ordinance can be difficult. One minute, they get a complaint call regarding a panhandler at a specific intersection. But when they show up, the person could be gone. And if there is a priority call at the same time, that takes precedent.

“It is difficult, but when we get the calls, there are priority calls that take priority over something like this,” O’Grady said. “Domestics, burglaries‚Ķ the priority one calls. Sometimes, by the time we get there, it’s hard to find the people panhandling.”

In 2020, CCPD received 122 calls for panhandling complaints, and 2021 has seen 56 already.