Loop shooting: Aggressive panhandling on rise

August 28, 2009 (CHICAGO) On Thursday, a panhandler was shot by police after he grabbed an elderly man and threatened him with a knife. Police said the fact Jacob Stolarz, 45, does not have an address is hindering the investigation. The incident has brought to light a rise in aggressive panhandling in the city of Chicago.

According to the Chicago Police Department, there were 754 reports of aggressive panhandling in all of 2008. Already, 778 cases have been reported this year.

"We do have certain areas near the train stations and major retail corridors, where we do have folks harassing people in the Loop area," said Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward.

While some people wonder if the economy plays a part in the uptick, Geraldine Palmer from the North Side Housing Shelter said more than likely the growing problem has to do with recent state budget cuts to mental health care services.

"They may be going without medication therapy that helped cope in the past," said Palmer.

While not enough is known about Stolarz to say for sure whether he had mental health issues, some familiar with him say he did. That leads Palmer to speculate whether this incident was a case of "suicide by cop."

"I wouldn't be surprised if he just decided. It sounds like he wasn't interested in living because they kept telling him to stop. He had reached a place where he had given up," said Palmer.

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