When any law enforcement agency focuses its enforcement in a specific location, it is mainly due to the level of blatant lawlessness associated with particular area that has gone far beyond the norm. In Skid Row, many people were under the assumption that it was their “right” to break minor laws such as jaywalking, or standing in the middle of the street and so on because they were poor or homeless. They along with many of our detractors truly believe that we should just look the other way.
The scarcity of police resources prior to the Safer Cities Initiative helped further this perception, as these minor violations went unchallenged for the most part, resulting in more heinous forms of lawlessness over the years.
When we focus our efforts in a particular location, we are not doing so to harass someone based on their social status, race, or gender but to break the cycle of lawless behavioral patterns and practices of that particular community for their safety and the safety of those around them.
Also, we are not writing jaywalking tickets, as an answer to ending or reducing homelessness, but to reduce the high volume of jaywalking violations in a targeted area where the specific violation or violations have become chronic.
As it relates to people with severe cases of mental illness, I personally believe in the “spirit of the law” style of enforcement rather than “letter of the law” enforcement, whereupon I encounter someone who may not have the wherewithal to understand these basic laws.
Yet in skid row, I find that most people whom I personally know (and that's a lot of people) with various forms, and degrees of mental illness clearly understand the law. As I drive my patrol vehicle down the block, violators are beginning to step back onto the sidewalk, instead of blatantly crossing the street illegally. Just four years ago I would have driven through a gauntlet of humanity standing in the street just to respond to an emergency call in Skid Row.
Hypathetically, If 19,000 tickets were written for jaywalking in skid row (referencing several articles printed about the Safer Cities Initiative, the latest from the Associated Press), then I can assure you that there were about 80,000 warnings given; unfortunately for us we do not document warnings.
One's social status in life, does not give anyone a free pass to violate the law. Routine law breakers in Skid Row had a 30 year run of doing pretty much what they wanted, which is in part what made it so dangerous in the first place. The message we are trying to make clear to Skid Row and anywhere in Los Angeles where the overall level of lawlessness begins to erode the safety and civility of an area is that if you do not want a ticket, you must obey all laws like everyone else.
As a result of our efforts, improvement is beginning to happen in Skid Row as fewer tickets are being written. The basic concept of concentrated enforcement is to stay focused on a problem area until the problems stabilize, or stops, and we must continue our work until it becomes a true place of rehabilitation, safety and order for all who choose to live, work or visit there. As it stands now, for me at least, all it takes is a stern warning and high visibility to deter most illegal activity on Skid Row.
Though I am in full support of enforcing the laws of our state for the purpose of educating the public and increasing safety, I am equally in support of providing alternatives for people in Skid Row who may not have the means to pay the fines associated with receiving tickets.
Over the past few months the City Attorney's office has been engaged in an effort which I am in favor of called the Homeless Alternative to Life on the Street also known as the “HALO” program. This program is mainly for low-income and homeless members of the skid row community, who receive tickets for minor violations. The program gives them a chance to work a few hours of community service, or check into a drug or alcohol program that suits their specific need, instead of paying the ticket, or missing court and having the ticket turn into a warrant. In the end, the benefactors of our enforcement and outreach is the Skid Row community, as we have fewer incidents of skid row residents being struck or nearly struck by vehicles, as well as a new sense of order that continues to improve daily.
I will keep you all posted on when the next HALO program will be in the Skid Row Area.
From Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph