Police cite homeless woman
San Diego police give a citation to a woman camping on the sidewalk of Commercial Street in San Diego. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

By Cody Dulaney and Jake Harper | inewsource

For months, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria has touted efforts to clear sidewalks of homeless encampments that he says pose a hazard to public health and safety.

Sanitation crews have swept through encampments and thrown away hundreds of tons of trash and property, potentially violating court orders in the process. Police have increasingly used illegal lodging and encroachment — a city law that was intended to prohibit trash cans from blocking a sidewalk — to ticket and arrest people who refuse to go to a shelter. It led to a dramatic spike in arrests.

“We’re a civil society,” Gloria said during a press conference in June. “We’ve agreed to a certain set of rules to live by. There have to be consequences when individuals choose to ignore those laws.”

But an inewsource analysis of offenses that generally target unhoused people found that the San Diego city attorney’s office rejects two out every three cases that are referred by police. 

Of the cases the office has pursued, every single one has ended in dismissal — often because the city attorney asked for it.

The lack of prosecutions and convictions points to a disconnect between the San Diego Police Department — under the direction of Gloria — and the city attorney’s office, said Joshua Chanin, a San Diego State University associate professor who teaches public administration and criminal justice. 

“In an ideal world, the police and the city attorney’s office have the same priorities,” he said. 
Studies have shown this policing-led, shelter-first approach is ineffective at helping people out of homelessness. Given the resources it takes to cite and arrest people only to have cases rejected or dismissed, Chanin told inewsource, “My questions would begin with, ‘What’s the point?’”

Read the full article on inewsource.org.

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Ellen Bullock