Hammering out the vagrancy crisis

Thursday, Jan 9th 2020, we with Mayor Meghan, city manager John Nachbar, and police chief Bixby to discuss the Globe Ave. vagrant camp situation. We had the expected results – mostly an impasse, with some promise of progress. As you can imagine, these three city officials had very different responsibilities, and therefore different slants on we can do about these camps.

First we confronted the case that started the whole crisis – the Martin v. Boise ruling. This upheld the 2006 case declaring it “cruel and unusual punishment” to cite someone for sleeping on the sidewalk, if they have nowhere else to go. A number of us asserted that Boise case only allowed people to sleep anywhere – it didn’t allow them to set up permanent residences. But city government stuck to the principle that if we force vagrants to do anything, we’ll get sued.

Nachbar made the challenging assertion that, though the 2006 ruling doesn’t technically apply to daylight hours, an activist plaintiff will claim that they need to sleep during the day, because they’re afraid of sleeping at night. And they would most likely win that case. He may very well be right. But even if he’s wrong, we would need a very assertive council to be ready to defend our laws against a lawsuit.

So while we had an impasse on that, this issue should definitely be on Culver City residents’ radar for the 2020 election. If we want to keep our streets and parks clean, we need a council that’s ready to assert our right to do so.

We also went back and forth on whether the mayor is disciplining police for “harassing the homeless.” Meghan has denied any such policy change, but we’ve definitely heard from officers saying they got reprimanded from her for “harassing the homeless” – meaning checking for warrants and suspicious activity. We will follow up on this and get to the bottom of the issue.

Our final question, after much heated back and forth on “long term solutions” and their efficacy, was “what can we do about this now? Today?”

With that, we stuck to the crime element. While CCPD can’t single-handedly patrol the area 24/7 for us, we can be proactive. That means setting up a Neighborhood Watch for the block, which alerts CCPD on any suspect or known activity. Based on our reliable testimony, they can have reasonable suspicion to talk to suspected dealers, pimps, people defecating on the streets, or any criminal activity.

Our policy will be simple – whatever rules exist in a shelter, exist on our streets. If you want to live on our streets, you follow our laws, or you find another street. Nobody will be able to deal drugs or women, or harass local residents, without our watchful eye catching it.

Hopefully, if we stay vigilant, at least the worst elements will be discouraged to ply their trade elsewhere. We will be contacting CCPD’s liaison officer Yabko to set this up as soon as possible.

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