Searcy Police warns of panhandlers posing as church group

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SEARCY, Ark. – It’s the season of giving but be careful who you’re giving to. That’s the message from Searcy Police after learning about a group posing as members of a church and asking for money on the streets. Thursday people carrying buckets with the initials NLC for New Life Church stood at the intersection of West Main St. and West Beebee Capps Expy. According to police they had no affiliation with the church but were still allowed to hit the streets and ask for money.

It’s the reason for the season, give to those in need.

“I’m one I’ll give to anybody if I’ve got five dollars I’ll give them half of it,” Searcy resident Letha Buck said.

Buck is a regular donor to those on the streets.

“I can’t stand to see somebody do without,” Buck said.

When she drove through the intersection of Main Street and Beebee Capps Thursday and saw church members asking for money, something made her stop reaching for her wallet and keep driving.

“It was just a nagging feeling that something just don’t look right,” Buck said.

According to police, panhandlers were posing as members of New Life Church but according to Searcy Police Public Information Officer Sergeant Todd DeWitt they had no affiliation. Sgt. DeWitt said no crime was committed because panhandling in the state of Arkansas is protected by the First Amendment. This time of year it seems people are asking for donations on every street corner so how do you separate the naughty from the nice?

“You really won’t know until you start digging or have the police get involved and start digging a little bit into who they are or who they represent,” Sgt. DeWitt said.

That’s why DeWitt encourages people to do their research ahead of time.

“I would recommend giving to churches that have compassion closets or food pantries or something like that,” Sgt. DeWitt said.

As for Buck, she’s always willing to lend a helping hand but says after this experience she will be even more cautious.

“It may not get rid of all of it but it will help,” Buck said.

The act of panhandling is not illegal but many might wonder if it’s illegal while pretending to be part of an organization. Sgt. Dewitt said police can’t stop them but the church can file a civil suit against the group. Church members say this group had no affiliation with their church and they would never go to the streets to ask for money.

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