Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik says she wants to stop what appears to be a growing number of panhandlers in the village.
After visiting a village mall, Kovarik said Monday, she posted a Facebook message urging people to not encourage panhandlers by giving them money.
She said a woman, man and four or so children stepped into traffic and sought cash from shoppers Sunday afternoon in a parking lot near the Target store in the Grand Hunt Center west of Gurnee Mills.
"A lot of the panhandlers are scam artists -- no 'if,' 'ands' or 'buts' about it," Kovarik told the Daily Herald.
Last summer, Kovarik said, an inner road ringing Gurnee Mills and a Walmart parking lot near the megamall were populated by beggars.
Rather than provide money to panhandlers, she said, someone who wants to help the less fortunate should donate to the PADS Lake County homeless-assistance agency or to the Salvation Army. She said it's likely those seeking money through hard-luck stories are not from Gurnee and view the village as a place to make easy money in warm weather.
"I know it tugs at your heartstrings, but if the village is a profitable location, word will spread and more and more (beggars) will come," Kovarik wrote in her Facebook message.
Gurnee long has been one of the state's top tourist draws. The village typically receives 26 million annual visitors to places such as Six Flags Great America, Gurnee Mills and KeyLime Cove Waterpark Resort.
Police Cmdr. Willie Meyer said the number of visitors makes Gurnee attractive to those looking for handouts. He said authorities agree with Kovarik's suggestion to call the police nonemergency number to report any panhandling.
Meyer said police receive donations to help the less fortunate in ways such as providing a little gas money to someone who needs it.
PADS Lake County Executive Director Joel Williams said while it may seem like a disconnect, it's better to refuse someone on the street who is begging for money. He said the donations to organizations such as PADS can lead to long-term solutions and care to the needy.
"It's kind of a Band-Aid solution to give to someone who is panhandling or whatever the case may be," Williams said.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani became known for pushing a tough stance on panhandling to reduce serious crime in the 1990s. It was part of the "broken windows" crime fighting philosophy, with police taking seriously any signs of public disorder.
Kovarik said Gurnee police are limited in what they can do about panhandling on private property. However, she contends the presence of officers called to an area where panhandling is occurring can serve as a deterrent.