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LAPD captain on Skid Row progress: 'We're regressing'

By Hayley Fox
Published: Friday, February 24, 2012, at 10:44AM
Eric Richardson

Encampments and the accumulation of trash and personal items continues to grow on Skid Row.

Since the city banned the confiscating and destroying of property from Skid Row's homeless last year, crime rates in the area have shot up, said Central Division Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Horace Frank.

"We're regressing," Frank said, in regards to many health and safety issues in the Downtown area. "The environment allows it."

He said that many of the homeless people's "possessions" would be classified as trash under any other circumstances; items such as plastic bags and food wrappers. Many of the 1,373 people living on Skid Row are mentally ill, said Frank, and compulsively gather garbage and discards on the street.

By halting the city's removal of these items, the injunction essentially allows hoarding on public streets -- creating an environment that facilitates the spread of disease and crime.

"It is a public health hazard," said Councilwoman Jan Perry in an earlier interview with blogdowntown. "If we cannot reach some understanding with the court about having the ability to get people's personal articles off the sidewalk for a certain period of time so that we can sanitize the sidewalk, people are going to get sick."

It's not just the homeless who are getting sick either, said Capt. Frank. Just a few years ago there was a staph infection outbreak among his Downtown police officers - likely caused by merely walking through the Skid Row streets.

Nowhere else in the city would these sidewalk encampments ever be allowed, said Frank, and the injunction only applies to Skid Row -- the area designated as the blocks between 3rd and 8th, and Spring and Alameda.

Earlier this week a dead homeless man was discovered in a makeshift tent on E. 3rd Street and Crocker Avenue, in the latest of Skid Row deaths. Capt. Frank said that the piles of possessions that litter the sidewalks can conceal these bodies, making it difficult for police to locate people in need.

At last count, 43 percent of all thefts in the Central Division occurred on Skid Row, Frank said, and these incidents can easily escalate to robberies and assaults when confrontations ensue.

The injunction is a result of a case filed by eight homeless individuals who said the city took their belongings when they walked away for food, the bathroom or to appear in court. Their argument centers around Fourth and 14th Amendment claims that the pick-ups violate protections against unreasonable seizure and the deprivation of property without due process.

The injunction is currently under review at the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals but Frank is doubtful that the ruling will be overturned.

Molly Rysman, director of external affairs for the Skid Row Housing Trust, told blogdowntown last October that getting the injunction removed wouldn't solve the overarching issue of homelessness.

"You may be able to break up the encampment, but these folks are still homeless," she said. "We need to look at how to really solve this."

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