Gurnee Police Chief Kevin Woodside discussed how officers address panhandling in the village at a neighborhood watch meeting Thursday night in the wake of a new social media effort calling attention to a perceived problem.
Woodside said he decided to talk about panhandling at the periodic meetings because it surfaced as an issue on a social media service facilitated by the village, which allows residents in designated neighborhoods to communicate with one another. Trustee Don Wilson also began publicly raising panhandling concerns last year.
Village ordinance states panhandling is any act of asking strangers for money in public places. Woodside said at Thursday's neighborhood watch session the panhandlers also have First Amendment rights for what is not a criminal offense.
Woodside said panhandlers have not been associated with crime in Gurnee and that about 90 complaints about them were received from 2014 to 2016. Last year, seven individuals were identified as panhandlers, authorities said.
Gurnee police officers are trained to provide information cards to the panhandlers outlining their rights and responsibilities. The police also try to direct the panhandlers on where to receive help.
Meanwhile, Mayor Kristina Kovarik and other officials criticized a recently launched panhandling-related Facebook page. Called "Village of Gurnee -- A Panhandler Sanctuary," the page includes images of some men purportedly seeking money in or near busy village intersections and various information about the issue.
Although it is not immediately known who launched the page, Kovarik contends it was Wilson's handiwork. She criticized Wilson last year after he posted images of alleged panhandlers on his own Facebook page while trying to call attention to what he contends is a problem in the village.
"These are human beings," Kovarik said, "and shaming them and judging them is not for us to do."
Woodside also took a dim view of the Facebook effort after Thursday's presentation.
"I think publicly posting photographs like that is just shaming people and it's not part of the solution at all," he said.
Wilson, who will leave office April 30 because he fell short for a second 4-year term this month, said he did not start the new Facebook effort regarding panhandlers.
But Wilson said aggressive panhandling remains a problem in a town heavily dependent on tourism. He said he's been "the only trustee, period" who has sought to help those seeking money on Gurnee's streets by means such as working with the PADS Lake County homeless organization.
Wilson said the new Facebook page indicates panhandling is an issue that should be addressed.
"In a social media world, it shows how upset people are becoming about this issue that has been solved elsewhere," said Wilson, who at one time was homeless.
Before the April 4 election, Wilson said the panhandling occurs mostly at busy intersections and creates safety problems.
He said he's found ordinances that Gurnee potentially can mimic, such as one in Evanston prohibiting aggressive panhandling.