Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sheriff defends officers
in actions against homeless

May 01, 2006

Sheriff defends officers in actions against homeless

By Matt Pordum

Las Vegas Sun

Re: According to the police report, she grew belligerent and was arrested for disturbing the peace.

Comment: I have known Bernadette for 11 months now. She is one of the most soft-spoken, passive, non-violent, respectable (former) homeless women I know.

Re: "I'm fighting not just for me but for all the homeless in this city being harassed," Jacaruso said last week.

Comment: It is not only "harassment" that is the problem. Many marshals and metro officers are totally disrespectful and degrading to homeless folks (or people who they think are homeless) from the onset. They initiate the confrontation by saying things like, "You low-life, vagrant, scum of the community have 5 seconds to get the f*** out of here or you are going to be arrested." This is one of the most common complaints I hear- the uncalled for disrespect.

Re: "I don't mean to be flippant about this, but we have better things to do than arrest the homeless," Young said. "I want to catch bad guys, the really serious, hard-core criminals out there. That's why I took this job. What we don't want to do is waste time arresting the homeless."

Comment: I know many homeless folks who have been arrested (or given citations)multiple times for innocent conduct which NO non-homeless person would be arrested for. These actions include sitting, eating, sleeping or otherwise innocently being on public property, including city sidewalks; sitting on a bus bench, cutting through a grocery store parking lot on the way to work, standing under a bank over hang to stay out of the rain, missing a trash can with a gum wrapper falling to the ground, etc.

I will give Sheriff Young the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is a sincere, good man. And I would assume that we have many marshals and metro officers who are sincere, good people. However, the fact still remains that many, many homeless are being arrested on a daily basis for breaking local laws that "criminalize" homelessness.

So, if Sheriff Young is not giving the orders to harass and arrest the homeless for these non-violent, innocent actions, why do we have so many of these arrests?

Re: hiring a social worker to serve as his liaison to the homeless

Comment: This may be a good start, however, there is so much more that needs to be done. In a city with this much wealth, there is no excuse for our homeless problem to be so out of control.

Homeless plan shifts to awareness,
By Timothy Pratt, Las Vegas Sun

"Educating the community" must also include educating Metro and City Marshals, and encouraging them to use alternatives other than enforcement action as a response to homelessness.

From what I have read on the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty

there are already programs out there that Las Vegas could learn from.

1. Local laws that "criminalize" homelessness should be challenged and removed.

2. "Constructive Alternatives to Criminalization"

a. Build a Day Center open 8 am to 4 pm funded by business owners.

b. Written Police Protocol: before arrests or issuing any citations for misdemeanors: give a verbal warning to relocate; if that fails, issue a written warning to the homeless person; if that fails, the police officer must call an Outreach Team that can offer social service alternatives to the homeless person including a [free and safe] shelter bed [with free transportation to the shelter.]

However, if no shelter bed is available, any type of enforcement must cease immediately. If a shelter bed is available and the homeless person refuses to locate there, he/she can be cited, or left alone, depending on the discretion of the officer.

Officers must document such encounters as part of their police records...

c. All homeless individuals should be treated with dignity and respect just as any non-homeless individual.

d. After any arrest of a homeless individual, all means should be taken to return all of their personal property, including their clothing, blankets, and identification. All persons should be released with a state issued laminated photo ID. If the individual did not/does not have a stated issued ID, the city or county should provide one immediately before release.

This should be witnessed and signed by a member of an Outreach Team who is not employed by the city, county, or state.

e. Mandatory training for police officers to increase awareness about the causes of homelessness, to learn alternatives other than enforcement action as a response to homelessness, and to teach the above (b) Written Police Protocol.

Our main goal should be to END homelessness with safe, permanent, affordable housing; quality, affordable medical care; and, jobs that pay a living wage. Shelters and Day Centers should be used as an intermediary stage between homelessness and safe, permanent, affordable housing.

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