Aggressive panhandlers operating scam in Collegedale

Photo included from CPD Facebook post about the panhandlers. (Photo courtesy of: Collegedale Police Department)
Photo included from CPD Facebook post about the panhandlers. (Photo courtesy of: Collegedale Police Department)

On Friday, February 4, Collegedale police intercepted four individuals who were asking for money at the intersection of Lee Highway and Ooltewah Ringgold Road, according to a police update. 

“The four had reportedly been asking for money from stopped cars at the intersection, and while doing so, had found themselves partially inside the city limits of Collegedale,” wrote Jamie Heath, a lieutenant in the special investigations department.  

The update reported that the scammers had been collecting money in five-gallon orange buckets and were wearing orange reflective vests. The update went on to say that the scammers claimed to be affiliated with a church in Florida and were gathering money to donate to homeless families. 

“They had no permits from any jurisdiction to solicit for money, and according to various reports, had been working at that particular intersection for a few days,” the report stated. “Some reports alleged that the charities that they were collecting for were just as varied.” 

Upon investigation, Collegedale police found that the church was not involved and had not authorized any panhandling. 

“Collegedale police attempted to make contact with the Florida church, but at first, received no answer,” the update stated. “Several hours later, the pastor of the church called back and confirmed to local law enforcement that the panhandlers were not affiliated with the church in any way, and that they were likely operating a scam.”

However, the scammers had been ordered to cease panhandling within Collegedale city limits and had left the area when the pastor of the Florida church called back, wrote Heath. 

The scammers were reportedly knocking on vehicle windows as cars were sitting at intersections. 

Nick Helton, a police officer for Hamilton County Police Department and alumnus of Southern, was approached by the scammers on Friday, February 4, and was asked for money. Helton said one of the individuals knocked on his vehicle window as he sat at the red light, but he did not respond. 

“They didn’t have any marking of a church or any signs, nothing like that,” Helton said. “They were just walking around with buckets.” 

The police update outlined the definition of aggressive panhandling, which is a Class C misdemeanor, and encouraged readers to reach out to local law enforcement should they witness the following behavior.

“Aggressive panhandling is intentionally obstructing the path of a person or of a vehicle, being solicited or by making any statement, gesture or other communication that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear of personal harm for refusing a solicitation of a donation.”

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