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Council makes it clear: Help those who want help, prosecute the criminals among them
Pit Stop DSC_5194.JPG
Homeless individuals near the Tidewater Bikeway where is passes through downtown. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Manteca Police is teaming up with San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar to tackle the criminal element among the homeless by targeting the five top habitual homeless criminal offenders in town.
The goal is to employ a vertical prosecution system. That means the same deputy district attorney will prosecute all complaints and charges against the five habitual offenders among the homeless as identified by police.
By doing so, the odds are increased significantly that arrests and prosecution can lead to more jail time to remove the habitual homeless criminals from the street. Working in the favor of such an approach is the fact homeless often will not show up for court dates. If a homeless individual charged with low-level criminal activities continually does that judges will issue no-bail bench warrants. While that in itself doesn’t solve the problem, what does is the fact the no-bail warrant makes the individuals searchable. That allows police officers the right to search such individuals. If they come across drugs, drug paraphernalia or weapons during such searches it can lead to prosecuting for crimes that have more teeth under California law in terms of jail time.
And unlike other homeless misdemeanors that are prosecuted by the city attorney’s office, misdemeanor charges against the top five habitual homeless offenders will be handled by the DA’s office in a bid to move to the point where enough cases have accumulated or charges escalated against an individual to allow the courts to hand out more severe penalties.  
Manteca Police Captain Charlie Goeken shared the vertical prosecution strategy with the City Council Tuesday. The council had requested an update on homeless issues as part of their continuing effort to make sure issues surrounding homeless are a top priority for the city.
Goeken noted one of the top five identified has already committed an offense that puts him on track to ultimately get significant jail time. Once one of the five is taken off the streets a replacement homeless individual that causes criminal problems will be added to the DA’s radar by the police.

Manteca will continue efforts to help
homeless get help
It is similar to an effort more than a decade ago where Manteca Police assigned a special unit to go after the criminals that were committing the most crimes and work diligently to secure arrests for crimes that would lead to successful prosecutions. It is how Manteca brought its auto theft rate from a sky high 798 in 2004 to 332 last year.
At the same time vertical prosecution is being pursued the city will continue its efforts to work with the homeless that are ready to get off the street and into substance abuse programs or to be reunited with relatives. Manteca is also looking at other strategies to reduce homeless issues in the community.
“I don’t find homeless to be criminals but there are criminals among them,” Manteca Councilman Mike Morowit said.
Morowit related a recent incident where an employee of his asked an individual that was being belligerent to leave his store.  At one point in front of the store the individual — who happened to be homeless with a drug problem — pulled out a knife and threatened the clerk.  Morowit said police responded within minutes and arrested the individual.
Morowit characterized the individual as being a drug user and criminal who happens to be homeless.
It was a position echoed by the rest of the council.
Councilman Richard Silverman noted that the homeless often provide cover for criminal activity.
That point was reinforced by Councilwoman Debby Moorhead who said she witnessed a newer model pickup truck pull into a South Main Street gas station. A neatly dressed driver got out of the pickup and walked to a homeless looking individual who he exchanged money for what appeared to be drugs.
Goeken said the department will come across descriptions of such incidents while on social media such as Facebook. Often times it is accompanied by posted remarks asking why the police aren’t doing anything “about this.”
“We can’t do anything about it if we don’t know about it,” Goeken said.
Goeken asked citizens who come across such incidents to immediately call police and not simply post it on social media.

Manteca Police have gotten
200 homeless off the
streets since July 2016
Since Manteca Police started the deployment of community resource officers to work on homeless issues in July of 2016, they have gotten more than 200 homeless off the street either into substance abuse programs or reunited with relatives.
Goeken said at the same time in addition to the usual homeless that move from community to community, Manteca is seeing some homeless who are drawn to the city because they hear about how the city is making an effort to connect those on the streets with programs that can help them or work to get them back with their families that may be a thousand of miles away.
The issue of luring some homeless from nearby communities may be resolved as other cities in San Joaquin County are preparing to add community resource officers to work with the homeless modeled after the effort in Manteca.
Goeken, in talking to the homeless, said they will tell him they feel safer in Manteca as they don’t get victimized by other homeless who either will beat them or steal from them. Goeken in the past has noted he’s been told homeless and others come to Manteca to panhandle because they found it is easier to get money and other handouts from people in Manteca.
Goeoken said the generosity of Manteca residents undermines efforts to eliminate criminal activity and to help the homeless get off the street. He told the council they (those that panhandle for money) will use the money they receive to buy drugs and alcohol. And when they are given food it frees up what money they get from general assistance or disability to buy drugs.
Goeken also noted the day time population of “homeless” will swell given there are non-homeless in Manteca that like to hang out with the homeless.
The captain said the courts have helped efforts to keep areas such as Library park and Wilson Park clear of homeless problems by issuing stay away orders when a homeless individual is citied for illegal camping.
Goeken said the order doesn’t stop a homeless individual from going to the park but it bars them from bringing camping paraphernalia with them even if they don’t use it to set up camp. It has allowed police to reduce homeless issues as such individuals typically will not separate themselves from their gear.
Mayor Steve DeBrum related an incident that happened just the other day when an individual went to enter a store. They saw a sweater lying on the ground, lifted it up and found a pile of human excrement beneath it.
“We’re hearing people every day saying they’ve had enough — businesses and citizens,” DeBrum said.

Mayor against single
homeless shelter; open
to other solutions such
as day center, placement
of portable toilets
While making it clear he was against a single adult homeless shelter opening in Manteca, the mayor said he’d like to see other solutions explored such as a day center with resources to help the homeless get off the streets. He also said he wanted to make sure the restrooms at Library Park were open and would even entertain the idea of the city placing portable toilets in strategic locations if it can reduce issues such as the homeless defecating in doorways, alleys, and other places in public.
When asked by the council to provide a number of homeless individuals in Manteca, Goeken referred to the last count in January 2017 that put it at 78. He said at any given time Manteca probably has 10 to 15 more or less on either side of 78 homeless people.
That count revealed four were homeless veterans, 64 percent has been on the streets for a year or more, 68 percent self-identified as a substance abuser and 25 percent have physical handicaps or mental issues.
DeBrum noted that the city being able to get 200 individuals off the streets in less than two years shows something right is being done in Manteca. He added, however, there is a lot more yet to do.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email