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LAPD officer in charge of Skid Row promises to enforce sidewalk laws

By Rina Palta
Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012, at 02:59PM
skid row trash LAPD

Homeless people sleeping on a street on Skid Row

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph is the Senior Lead Officer for Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles, where the city is currently undertaking a massive cleanup. Amidst the street sweeping and powerwashing, there are rumors of a crackdown on the homeless population that congregates on (and essentially lives on) Skid Row's sidewalks. Officer Joseph emailed us with his take on the situation. Here's what he had to say:

As far as Skid Row being a sit/lie/sleep safe zone, they are allowed to sleep on the sidewalk from 9 PM to 6 AM. But after six, they are supposed to pack their items and obey all sidewalk laws. This is an agreement reached by the city and civil liberties groups in 2006.

Prior to the Skid Row Injunction, most of the Skid Row community did just that. After the injunction, the sidewalk hoarders began hoarding items on the sidewalk, as the City tried to abide by and respect the order of the courts (and continues to do so). The hoarding anchored them to the sidewalk and they stopped utilizing area services. The sidewalk became their toilet, living room, and kitchen, as well as a place where many of them could conceal narcotics usage and sales.

The items they were hoarding were broken items, such as couches, car engines, TVs, chairs and other items that were simply discarded junk. Other items were donated clothes that they only used for toilet paper, or bedding. This atmosphere gave way to the thought of many from outside of Skid Row that this was once again a place where you could dump your unwanted items, and simply exacerbated the problem.

The fallout of this was a rise in crimes such as theft and violent crime (some of which surrounded the property on the sidewak), a rise in disease such as Hepatitis C, Staph, Scabies, and lice. Rodents and other vermin were returning as well, thanks to sidewalk feeders who would continue to enable to folks who were anchored down to the sidewalk. A more important factor was the human toll, as we began seeing an increase in sidewalk deaths and responses from the Fire Department for people suffering from overdoses, or disease.

Here are some statistics that support this:

- In 2005, 93 people died in this 50-block radius we call Skid Row. 18 of those individuals died in the streets in conditions similar to what we are experiencing.

- After the inception of Safer Cities Initiative and its three-pronged approach to dealing with crime and quality of life issues (Enforcement, Outreach, Enhancement) Those stats changed dramatically. We all know about the 40% reduction in crime, but even deaths were reduced.

- In 2009, 63 people died in Skid Row. Only 5 died in the street or sidewalk because the sidewalks were cleared, and there were less places for people to hide and destroy themselves via narcotics, or unhealthy lifestyles that affected everyone. Also many people who truly were in skid row for services were then benefitting from them which was the plan all along.

After the 2011 injunction, I noticed an increase in filth and disease. Especially in my area, where there has never been a BID (Business Improvement District). I also noticed more people dying on the streets. I took the liberty to contact the Coroner’s office, an obtained these statistics for 2011. In 2011, 123 people died in Skid Row, 15 of them died on the street. These stats nearly mirror what was happening before SCI.

Another statistic that may interest you is the response from the Fire Department as a result of Skid Being allowed to return to a decrepit state. In the 1st 3 months of 2011 (the 1st Quarter), the LAFD responded to 754 call for service. This is typical. After the injunction in April, their call load in our Division and Skid Row began to increase. In the 3rd quarter of 2011 (July, August, September post injunction) the LAFD responded to 1,451 calls for service. The majority of those calls were in the Skid Row area.

Now as far as future enforcement of sidewalk ordinances, we have been on an aggressive campaign over the past few months to warn chronic violators of sidewalk ordinances such as 41.18 (D) LAMC - sitting, sleeping, laying on a public sidewalk/56.11 LAMC - storing personal items on the sidewalk/42.00 (B) LAMC - Illegal vending on the sidewalk before taking action.

This was done through passing out fliers, and verbally educating the skid row community, and alerting them that future arrest and or cites were pending. We have provided the aforementioned individuals plenty of time to get their things in order before we take the necessary steps in supporting other city and county agencies in restoring a healthy saner quality of life in Skid Row again.

We will be enforcing these laws, while at the same time respecting the injunction, and the constitutional rights of the individuals we deal with. We have a storage facility nearby (Temple and Alameda) for the large property of those we arrest. For items deemed a health and safety hazard, they will be discarded as such.

With all of the hindrance we have in reducing crime (AB109/Injunction/Jails Revolving Door) we have to restore a sense of order again in Skid Row, via what many would consider the enforcement of "so called" innocuous violations. But this enforcement was key in reducing crime and maintaining order before the injunction, and it will be key in bringing it back. I am proud of what we accomplished for the past 7 years prior to the injunction, because lives were saved and crime was reduced. And that to me is more important than someone being allowed to keep a bucket of urine on the sidewalk.

[Above] is a photo of what I speak. The inhumane part of the photo to me, is allowing the man in the photo to lay in filth.

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