Charlie Jennings received a nine-week jail sentence for begging in Norwich last week.
He was charged under the 1824 Vagrancy Act.
Chief Inspector Nick Paling said the sentence imposed should serve as a warning to others.
He added, “It’s a criminal offence, you will go to court and look at this result—a term of imprisonment is an option to magistrates.”
The cop claimed few people begging in Norwich were actually homeless, while some were on benefits.
He said people could earn up to £150 a day or night begging in the city and the cash was being spent on drugs and alcohol.
“It is seen as a form of employment,” he said.
Paling insisted police were not indiscriminately targeting people after 17 people were arrested.
The cop added, “We will not tolerate this kind of behaviour and we will take robust action against those who continue to commit such offences.”
Charlie was spotted by a cop sitting near a cashpoint. One of the members of the public who walked past was seen “shaking his head”.
Alastair Taunton, his solicitor, said Charlie was currently sleeping rough around the city.
He added, “He’s been struggling on his own, his benefits have now been stopped as well because he missed an appointment.
“Rather than stealing from shops he was begging to try to get some money, which is a slight improvement because he knows stealing is wrong.”
Charlie was ordered to pay a £115 victim surcharge.