ASSERTING THAT "we want to restore civility and order on the streets," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has announced the city will take a tougher stand against aggressive panhandlers.
It's about time. Panhandling has reached epidemic proportions, particularly downtown. For many beggars, this is clearly merely a business to collect money for alcohol, drugs or other splurging. This can be seen from the presence of the same people -- including children -- at the same intersections day after day. As if mere begging were not bad enough, many panhandlers get nasty and aggressive toward anyone who refuses their pleas for money.
Because of court restraints ordered in settling a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Baltimore police department has been confused about just how much it can do to deter panhandling. Lack of zeal develops when officers move against offenders, only to see charges thrown out in court.
Part of Mr. Schmoke's strategy is for the police department and the city solicitor's office to work out guidelines for fair and acceptable enforcement. The city then plans to meet with judges to underscore its concern for the spread of aggressive panhandling and other forms of anti-social street behavior.
We support Mr. Schmoke's initiative.
We have repeatedly urged him to follow the lead of New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and its police commissioner, William J. Bratton, whose get-tough policies on all kinds of infractions -- from nuisance complaints to major offenses -- has dramatically decreased that city's major crime rate.
Mr. Schmoke has philosophical problems with the Guiliani approach because of civil rights concerns. We can understand them.
But when civic lawlessness reaches the proportions that it has recently in Baltimore, the government has the right and duty to protect law-abiding citizens. We hope Mr. Schmoke's crackdown panhandling is just the first of his criminal policy reviews.
Every Baltimorean can join the mayor's initiative by simply not giving money for beggars. Donations are best channeled through charitable organizations.