Last week, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office perched a mobile camera unit at the popular panhandling hangout just east of Fort Collins' city limits. It's intended to deter the practice and is one of the early steps to enforce new county panhandling restrictions that took effect this month.
"It's a big camera on a pole. We've had it for a couple of years," said Capt. John Manago of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. "It's a force multiplier for us. We're able to see more with fewer people."
More importantly, Manago said, it's a highly visible deterrent that keeps panhandlers away from one of their favorite haunts, where asking for money is newly prohibited. So far, the camera has worked to shoo away panhandlers, but it doesn't deserve all of the credit.
"The combination of the weather and the camera being there has worked as a deterrent," Manago said. "But we know the weather's going to change. It's going to get nicer, and then we'll get a better indication of how effective the camera is."
The camera runs on a gas-powered generator and feeds an online video stream back to the sheriff's office, where deputies can monitor remotely whether panhandlers are setting up shop in the forbidden zone.
The county's new panhandling restrictions took effect Jan. 7. Since county commissioners adopted the restrictions in December, the sheriff's office has been contacting panhandlers who are in violation to educate them about the change. Manago said the camera is an extension of that education campaign because it aims to curb violations before they result in tickets, which can carry a fine of up to $1,000.
"I think we'll keep this phase going at least through January," Manago said.
It costs the sheriff's office little to administer the camera, which it obtained several years ago through a grant. The only associated costs are for keeping fuel in the generator and the rare occasion that manpower is deployed to cart it around.
Manago said the camera has a singular mission.
"We got some calls from citizens asking why the camera is there," he said. "I don't blame them for wondering. The only reason it's there is the panhandling issue."
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