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Educational Campaign Targets West Side Drivers

At some intersections, and along certain medians on the West Side, they have become commonplace: a man or a woman, seemingly down-and-out, looking forlorn, and holding a sign stating something about being broke, or hungry, or maybe even pregnant.

On Thursday afternoon, four Madison Police officers, dressed in plain clothes, and holding homemade signs, took positions at some of the frequent West District panhandling spots.

Their mission was to educate.

Panhandling has become an increasing problem as word has spread that there is good money to be made working these high-traffic areas, according to the West District's Sgt. Lori Chalecki. She says what Madisonians don't realize is that there are many holding signs who are not homeless, and are looking to exploit citizen generosity; often in order to support drug or alcohol addictions.

Thursday, the officers posing as panhandlers, were offered more than $300 cash, as well as food and drink. They took nothing, but handed out educational pamphlets; alerting drivers to panhandling scams, and letting them know giving to those who solicit can result in a $177 fine under Madison General Ordinance 12.325(2).

Besides unwittingly supporting addictions, Sgt. Chalecki said there is also a safety concern: "The presence of sign-carrying panhandlers distracts drivers; raising the potential for rear-end crashes." In addition she says, "Road rage incidents are also a concern, because traffic gets tied up when someone stops to give money or food."

The Madison Police Department (MPD) would encourage citizens to make donations to legitimate charitable organizations instead of to panhandlers: "We are blessed to live in such a generous city, but we want people to adhere to our ordinances in an effort to maintain everyone's safety," said Sgt. Chalecki.


  • Sgt. Lori Chalecki, 243-0500
  • Joel DeSpain, 266-4897