Polk County Works to Enforce ‘Three-Strike’ Panhandling Ban

LAKELAND | Beg for money in some counties, and you may end up with a few bucks.

Beg for money in Polk County, and you might end up in jail.

More than six months after the County Commission passed a “three-strike” ordinance on panhandling in roadways, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has made 15 arrests and responded to more than 200 calls for service based on the new county law, according to data acquired by The Ledger.

The ordinance, passed unanimously July 9, followed bans already in place in Lakeland and Winter Haven.

Winter Haven issued 15 civil citations for panhandling over the same time period. Lakeland’s last panhandling arrest was in June 2012, according to Terri Smith, a Lakeland police crime analyst.

William Herrington, 52, could be seen with a cardboard sign at Harden Boulevard and the Polk Parkway in South Lakeland on Tuesday. Homeless since 1999, Herrington said this was the first time he was out asking for money this month, but sometimes he comes out as often as five times per week.

He said the entire homeless community in Polk knows about the law change, and those who say they don’t are lying.

Although he stood within the Lakeland city limits Tuesday, the county line sits just south, at Alamo Drive, and he has asked for money at intersections in the county as well.

“It depends on the area; if it’s a hot spot, there is going to be a problem. If you’ve got a hot bed of tramps, you’re gonna get cops,” Herrington said. “It needs to happen, we know that. If you let everyone have their way, they’d be on every street corner.”

The full version of this article can be found here as it was originally published on page A1 of The Ledger.