We need to be absolutely clear on two points.
1) Manteca Police are ridiculously short-staffed. At the same time serious crime per 1,000 residents have been dropping although not the same can be said for crimes that are more of a property nature and don’t involve the use of force. These are quality of life crimes which, to borrow jargon, are gateway crimes to bigger problems such as blight.
2) Getting to a reasonable middle ground regarding homeless issues in Manteca is not the responsibility of the police department nor is it the exclusive responsibility of the city. That said the police need to take a balanced approach to enforcing laws addressing quality of life crimes regardless who commits them. The city needs to lead which includes forging more partnerships and implementing and then enforcing ordinances designed to address health and safety issues. Such efforts must also address enablers such as those who dump clothes for the homeless in public places or who give money to panhandlers in areas where it is illegal to do so.
It is clear community resource officers are a key component to the city’s strategy. That said let’s hope what’s in place isn’t the city’s only strategy as the effort to be fair and reasonable currently appears to many people to be tipped heavily in favor of those among the homeless who are lawless and aggressive panhandlers.
Today, let’s examine how the city could make CROs more effective.
Again, no quarrel with what the CROs have been able to accomplish so far. And, yes, it may sound like we’re trying to tell the police how to do their job but the intent is to get Manteca to a better place whether one is “homeless” or “homed.”
One criticism is that the CROs seem like a wake up service in enforcing the city’s restriction to sitting or lying down on public property that isn’t posted or secured to the hours between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The city ordinance meets court rulings that basically the homeless have a right to sleep.
While some find fault with what they call “homeless wake-up calls”, they are keeping in line with limits the city had set.
That said the city last year took steps to make it clear under what circumstances it is legal and illegal to camp on private property.
Drive around Manteca in the hours after the CROs have gone home. Then read the city’s ordinance regulating camping. Then go down the list of legitimate citizen concerns that run the gamut from illegal campers defecating and urinating on their property, damaging or trashing their property, and leaving calling cards in the form of broken windows if owners roust homeless from their property.
Perhaps it might make sense to occasionally have CROs work a graveyard shift to search out those camping illegally and get them to move on then and there. They’ll get the message.
That said where do they go? Some head to the Spreckels Park BMX track, as an example, for the night or stop by Lincoln Park for a BBQ before heading to secured locations where they avoid detection and try to minimize their proverbial footprint. It’s illegal for anyone to be at either place the time they are but they aren’t creating a problem. They disperse shortly after sunrise and for the most part they clean up after each other. As long as they aren’t creating a problem and aren’t illegally camping in a high profile location, let it be. It’s called enforcing the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law.
Also the CROs might point out to their bosses that most of the homeless don’t want to go to the bathroom like animals. It is one reason they will gravitate to those two parks, as an example, throughout the day or at night. Maybe strategically placed portable toilets in city property — there are a lot of odd parcels — might reduce public urination and defecation.
And while we are in the subject of CROs working slightly different hours, it may be just our imagination but it seems businesses that seek help with aggressive panhandlers after their efforts have been for naught tend to be in the evening, at night, and on weekends.
To prove this is irking some law-abiding citizens, we’ll borrow sort of a cheap shot we’ve heard more than once — “if there are aggressive panhandlers at the driveway entrance to Great Wolf when it opens you can bet the city will find a way to respond.”
We believe that is a cheap shot. That said, hopefully the city will prove us right whether it is in regards to aggressive panhandling which is illegal compared to simple panhandling or illegal camping regulations.
IN THURSDAY’S BULLETIN: Reasons why the city needs to make a homeless day center a reality.