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Police to enforce no sitting, sleeping rule on Skid Row after cleanup

By Hayley Fox
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012, at 02:30PM
Bear Guerra/KPCC

Area resident Frank Jeffrey Kennon moves his belongings to make way for the cleaning crews.

The LAPD will begin strictly enforcing sidewalk rules in Skid Row after the multi-week cleanup of the area is finished, in an attempt to get the neighborhood "back on track," according to LAPD Capt. Horace Frank.

Once the streets are cleaned, police will work to maintain them by ticketing and arresting those who are sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., or storing property there.

"Our position is that once [the cleanup] is done, we're not going to let it happen again," said LAPD Central Division Capt. Horace Frank. "We're going to go back to enforcing the law."

Pete White, co-director and founder of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), said that his organization "wholly supports" the clean up effort as do many of the area's residents. He does not believe however that the police should be using their resources to enforce laws that target homeless, including the disabled and the elderly, and removing them from the sidewalks.

"That's a moral choice the city of Los Angeles has to make," said White.

The revived attention to city codes 41.18 and 56.11, comes after the L.A. County Department of Health cited the city for multiple health code violations in the Skid Row area, including the prevalence of discarded hypodermic needles and human excrement. In the past, Frank had attributed much of the disintegrating health conditions in the area to an injunction that was reaffirmed last year, which bans police from throwing out homeless people's belongings. This statement was based on a previous interpretation of the injunction, which has since changed.

"The reason we were not diligently in enforcement before, is because of a misconception of the terms of the injunction," said Frank. Now that they have a clearer understanding, police will be able to more effectively enforce the related laws, he said.

The injunction requires police to store all confiscated property for 90 days before destroying them, but does not prohibit them from removing items from the street in general.

White said that many Skid Row residents appreciate the cleaning efforts and would also like to see a more sanitary community. In fact, he said that some homeless can be seen sweeping their portion of the sidewalk almost daily.

The area's homeless population along with LACAN have also advocated for more trash cans and port-o-potties to help improve health conditions in the area, said White, but police have said that these items often get used to facilitate illegal activity -- such as concealing weapons or drugs.

White said that he's unsure of how the police's revamped law enforcement will function without impeding on the injunction, and added that though he's in support of creating a healthier environment, he doesn't think people should be "deprived of their personal belongings."

"There's not a moratorium on the Constitution in Skid Row," said White.

But Frank said the police are only striving to enforce the law and to keep the area from becoming the health hazard that it was.

"The injunction doesn't say you get to store your property on the sidewalk," he said.

As cleanup crews comb the area block by block, homeless are being asked to leave to make way for the power-washing and sanitizing, but they are allowed to come back -- so long as they follow the rules.

Frank made it clear that police will be writing tickets and arresting people for violating either of these sidewalk city codes. While the police are not a panacea for solving Skid Row's issues, Frank said, he hopes the police can be "a partner in this holistic approach" to cleaning up the area.

"The objective is to make [the homeless] mobile," Frank said -- allowing people to store their belongings in one of the available bins during the day, and unpack their tent at night when they are permitted to sleep on the sidewalk from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Or, maybe many will take advantage of the housing options at the apartments or missions in the area, Frank said.

"Clearly, there's no plan for where people are going to go," said White. He added that while many homeless are willing to sleep inside, the resources are not there.

"The biggest environmental hazard we face in Skid Row is the lack of housing," said White.

The Skid Row cleanup is scheduled to continue into July and is a joint effort of the mayor's office, LAPD, LAFD and multiple other city agencies.

"This is a very costly endeavor and while it's necessary, it's not sustainable," White added.

As of now, the city has said it would like to implement a plan for future maintenance of the area, but no specifics have been determined yet.

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