Steveland Robinson, 30, of Erie is charged with aggravated assault. He’s accused of slashing the face and throat of a woman, as she left the Peach Street Walgreens on July 3rd.

Erie police say the suspect was panhandling, before the brutal attack. He allegedly solicited money from the people who left the store before the victim.

Like many cities across the country, downtown Erie sees its share of panhandlers, people apparently down on their luck, begging for money. So we caught up with police to ask how you should handle panhandlers.

We spotted a man, soliciting for money in downtown Erie. He quickly folded up, and put away his sign, when he saw a police officer heading his way.
That's likely because he knows what he's doing is illegal.

Deputy Chief of Patrol, Jon Nolan says several forms of panhandling are illegal, because of a city ordinance addressing disorderly conduct.

Nolan says if you come across a person begging for money, “Be nice courteous and move along. I'm not telling people not to help somebody when they're in need, but it could turn into something violent as it did in this last incident,” said Nolan.

Nolan says move along, but if the panhandler is especially harassing or visibly intoxicated, you should call police.

We spoke with several people Monday, out enjoying the park downtown, who say they're often solicited by homeless people.

And while it doesn't bother everybody, for many, it makes them uncomfortable, “Oh several times, people just ask me for money,” said Rebecka Johnson of Erie. “It makes me uncomfortable, sometimes I give them whatever change I have in my pocket, other times I say no and walk I away,” Johnson continued.

“I work downtown, many times I've had people walk up to me asking if I have any money, I just say, ‘No, I don't have cash on me,’ because I never carry cash,” said Heidi Longstreet, of Erie.

Nolan says two officers on Erie's bicycle patrols focus on downtown Erie, from the Bayfront to 14th street, and Sassafras to Holland.

Some downtown businesses have complained about panhandlers harassing their customers, and that’s one of the issues they address, “Our bicycle patrols downtown do try to move people along, but they have made arrests when people become violent of if they're intoxicated especially,” said Nolan.

If you see a panhandler, you can call the Erie Police Department’s non-emergency line at 814-870-1125.