BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It’s been a year since Biloxi began issuing permits for panhandlers, and now the police department will have a bigger role in the process. The change comes after the police chief told the city council that a few permitted panhandlers had criminal records, including drug charges and prostitution.
It isn’t hard to spot people on the streets of Biloxi begging for money. Biloxi Police Chief John Miller says the city council set up rules for panhandlers.
“How close to the roadway you can be," said Chief Miller. "Naturally, that’s to stop vehicle accidents or to stop a slow-down in traffic. You can’t panhandle at an ATM machine, within so many feet of an ATM machine.”
Police background checks have been done since the city passed the permit ordinance. But Miller says the community development department decided who received a permit. But now that permits have come up for renewal, Chief Miller noticed some issues.
“When we had first implemented the process, there were many that had received permits at that time who we really shouldn’t be awarding them this permit," Miller told WLOX.
So, the police department will keep doing background checks and now send the reports with a recommendation to approve or deny.
“So the application itself is filled out at community development and turned over to community development," Miller said. "Community development forwards that application over to the police department because we have the ability to do background checks.”
Councilman Robert Deming, III voiced concern at the April 2nd Biloxi Council Meeting about the process as a whole.
“One department said that they were going to handle it," said Deming. "The other department found out that it wasn’t really being handled, so they just took over.”
But Demming isn’t convinced that the process as a whole, regardless of background checks, will work at all.
“Are we wasting our time and money? I believe we are,” Deming said. "Because if you’re going to panhandle, you’re going to panhandle whether you have a permit or not.”
According to city of Biloxi Documents, sixteen panhandling permits were issued last year. Thirteen of them went to people with criminal backgrounds. This year 28 applications have been submitted through February. Eight of those had prior criminal records, and all were denied.