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2 arrested for pulling out signs that had been posted to discourage panhandling


Three weeks into Vero Beach's efforts to curb panhandling at city intersections, two homeless people have been arrested and jailed for removing – or attempting to remove – signs posted to discourage the roadside beggars and the motorists who give them money.

According to arrest affidavits, David Wayne Miller, 41, was charged with criminal mischief on Feb. 6, after he allegedly pulled one of the signs from the ground at the intersection of U.S. 1 and 17th Street.

Three days later, Benjamin Daum, 34, was charged with disorderly intoxication after a Vero Beach police officer allegedly saw him trying to remove a sign at the same intersection.

"We had three signs that were taken down," Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said. "The first one, we weren't sure who did it. The second one, David Miller was caught in the act. The third one was Benjamin Daum, who we believe was also responsible for the first one.

"We've had issues with both of them," he added. "They're not cooperative and they're usually under the influence of something, usually alcohol."

Currey said Miller has been arrested more than dozen times locally, and Daum has been jailed more than 40 times since 2005, usually for nuisance crimes such as disorderly intoxication, trespass and carrying alcoholic beverages in an open container in public.

All of the downed signs were quickly re-installed.

In fact, Currey said signs have been added at five locations, including the intersections of State Road 60 and 43rd Avenue – adjacent to the Nino's restaurant – and U.S. 1 and Aviation Boulevard.

There are now 12 such signs, which cost $50 apiece, posted at some of the city's busiest intersections.

"It's well worth the money to change the mindset in this community," Currey said, "because this is a public safety issue."

The fear is that drivers will be distracted by the panhandlers and cause an accident or that they will obstruct traffic when they stop to hand money out their windows. Panhandlers also are at risk of being struck by cars.

The city’s signs read: "DUE TO PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS, PANHANDLING IS DISCOURAGED" in red lettering, with "Please Donate To Local Charitable Organizations" underneath in smaller black letters.

Panhandling is not illegal, so city officials had to choose the wording for the signs carefully, after researching what other Florida cities were doing to combat a growing problem with roadside begging.

Currey said his department received nearly 300 calls from January 2017 to January 2018 from people complaining about panhandling on the city's streets. Police received more than 700 calls alerting officers to "homeless individuals on the corner."

He said many of the "homeless" calls probably involved the same people referred to in the panhandling calls.

As of last weekend, panhandlers could still be found at several intersections, sometimes standing under the city's signs, and motorists were still giving them money.

"The signs have been up only a few weeks and we're still getting feedback, but, overall, the response has been positive," Currey said. "Were just trying to get the message out so we can keep our streets safe, and I think it's having an effect.

"The signs might not discourage the panhandlers, but we hope they will deter motorists from giving them money," he added. "The surest way to stop the panhandling is to stop giving them money, because these people won't stay out there if it's not productive.

"Besides, if your money goes into their hands, we pretty much know where it's going to wind up."