NORWALK, Conn. – Complaints about homeless panhandlers in South Norwalk have reduced greatly, Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said.
Mayor Richard Moccia said recently that Kulhawik had taken a different approach to the problem than former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling.
Moccia said that at some point in the past SoNo business people wanted homeless people arrested. Rilling had said that was unconstitutional, according to Moccia, who went on to say that, “We’ve taken some new approaches with the new chief looking at it in a different way.”
Kulhawik responded to an inquiry on the topic with the following email:
“I can’t speak for the mayor, but I am guessing he was referring to the homeless panhandling issue on Washington Street. The business owners were not happy that panhandling in and of itself was not illegal. The city ordinance is for aggressive panhandling and that is defined in the ordinance. The business owners at one point wanted arrests made for loitering (which is not a crime) or for the panhandling regardless of the manner in which they asked for money.
“It was not a completely new approach, but an expansion of things we have tried and brought them together with some new ideas. We tried to address it a little more proactively. We had evening shift lieutenant — Lt. Murphy — dedicate several evening shift officers to focus on this issue for period of time to both enforce the ordinance where possible with a zero tolerance, and also bring in other services to try and assist such as mental health professionals. He also located and contacted the family members of one individual to try and get their assistance as the root issue is often substance abuse or mental illness. They were able to identify the prime people responsible and attempt to get them needed services as well as issue the violations pursuant to city ordinance where appropriate.
“As a result the problem appeared to be greatly reduced as we had very few complaints this summer as compared to past years.”