shopping cart law pushing poor, critics say [Tampa 2-28] FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 1 Apr 1998 23:54:41 -0800 (PST)

Saturday February 28, 1998


By Lynn Porter
of The Tampa Tribune

ST. PETERSBURG - Police are using an obscure law to stop homeless people
from using shopping carts, advocates fo the homeless say.

Keith Hatfield calls himself a "street recycler": one of the many homeless
people who make a few bucks picking up and turning in aluminum cans.

But now Hatfield is in trouble because of how he transported the cans: in a
grocery store shopping cart.

Since October, St. Petersburg police officer Garry Dailey has charged
Hatfield and about a dozen others, almost exclusively transients, with
violating a state law that assumes anyone with a commercial shopping cart
away from a store is in possession of stolen property.

Dailey has issued warnings to 47 others, almost all of them transients, for
breaking a law he acknowledges has been sparsely enforced in the past.

Dailey's one-man enforcement program angers advocates for the poor and
homeless who see it as a way to sweep these people out of downtown - to
pretty up the area for the March 31 opening day of the Tampa Bay Devil
Rays' inaugural baseball season.

"I look at it as harassment by that officer," said Steve Kersker, an
advocate for people with mental disabilities, some of whom are poor and
live on the streets. "And it is for baseball."

Dailey said that's not true: "Baseball or not, it's a law that's being
broken and it costs taxpayers money." Shopping cart loss is a problem for
the stores on his beat, the downtown area, he said.

He said he asked officials at Winn Dixie, 850 Third Ave. S., about a block
from Tropicana Field, home of the Devil Rays, and four other major chain
stores if they would support prosecution of people found with the carts.
Each one, including Kash N' Karry, Publix, Albertson's and Walgreensaid
they would, Dailey said.

But corporate officials at Publix Super Markets said their managers never
heard from Dailey, and the managers of Walgreen and Albertson's said they
did not talk with the officer.

"We certainly would hope to come to a solution short of having people
prosecuted for having a shopping cart," said Jennifer Bush, Publix
spokeswoman, noting that Publix - as do other stores - pays someone to
retrieve their carts.

A Winn Dixie official said its manager did speak with Dailey and the
company supports the enforcement. The manager, James Doyle, said some
customers "walk home with the carts with groceries in them."

But Dailey, for the most part, is not citing people with groceries who push
the carts beyond store property. Rather, he said, almost all of those
charged and warned had recycled cans and personal belongings in the carts
when stopped.

Those convicted of the first-degree misdemeanor can face up to one year in
jail and a $1,000 fine.

While shoppers warned about the consequences of their actions take him
seriously, Dailey said, the homeless are more likely to be "muttering under
their breath," and ignore his warnings.

Dailey said it was the first time he had used the law in his 25 years on
the force, and he is doing so as part of a self-initiated project to solve
a problem he observed on his beat.

Dailey's lieutenant, Bill Sohl, supports the patrolman's project.

Dailey has charged and warned so few shoppers, Sohl said, because the
"window of opportunity" to catch them is so small.

If they live close enough to go to the store, "we have to see them within
that one block or so and we don't have the stores staked out," said Sohl.
"You're more likely to see the man downtown that's pushing that cart all
over the place," he said.

And, he said,: "This has nothing to do with baseball at all. It's totally

Hatfield doesn't care much about why police are enforcing the law. Because
of it, the 67-year-old homeless man no longer uses carts he finds on the
street or in yards. He cares only that he now must make three trips to the
recycling center, carrying his cans in bags, to earn the $15 he used to
make in one trip.

And he is angry at police: "How about all the old women who pushes shopping
carts full of groceries? Why don't you arrest them?"

To make things worse, Hatfield, who acknowledges a problem with alcohol,
didn't show up in court when his case was called in December.

"It's just a matter of time before they pick me up on that warrant" for
failing to appear, he said.

The Rev. Bruce Wright of The Refuge, a downtown church that feeds the poor,
said police are using the law to harass the homeless.

"If the grocery stores aren't complaining, I don't see why it's their job
to violate someone's constitutional rights in arresting people," Wright
said. Dailey says that is not so.

His pursuit of people pushing carts began last year when he saw a couple of
people putting food scavenged from garbage bins into them. The food became
spoiled and smelly and dropped onto the sidewalk, he said.

After that he did some research and found the law. Now, he said, "You don't
have the health hazards of the nasty, decaying food, and property gets
returned to the rightful owner."


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