Huge Increase in Arrests of Homeless in L.A. — But Mostly for Minor Offenses

Criminalizing Homelessness

Los Angeles police found Reed Segovia slumped in a folding chair near the Venice boardwalk early one spring morning in 2016 and shook him awake.

The officers handed the homeless street artist a ticket for sleeping on the sidewalk.

Three months later, LAPD officers were citing Segovia again when they discovered an unpaid ticket for sleeping on the beach. This time, they handcuffed him, loaded him into a squad car and took him to jail.

L.A. officials have denounced “criminalizing” homelessness. But as Los Angeles struggles with a growing homelessness crisis, arrests of homeless people have gone up significantly, a Times analysis of police data shows. And the most common offense — the one Segovia was arrested for — was failure to appear in court for an unpaid citation.

Officers made 14,000 arrests of homeless people in the city in 2016, a 31% increase over 2011, the Times analysis found. The rise came as LAPD arrests overall went down 15%. Two-thirds of those arrested were black or Latino, and the top five charges were for nonviolent or minor offenses.

In 2011, 1 in 10 arrests citywide were of homeless people; in 2016, it was 1 in 6.

Los Angeles has more than a dozen “quality-of-life” laws — restricting sleeping on the sidewalk, living in a car or low-level drug possession, for example — that police enforce against homeless people, usually with a citation.

The tickets themselves typically start out at less than $100, but often top $200 or even $300 once court fees are added. Tickets pile up, and homeless people go to jail for not paying for offenses that warranted only citations.

“To pay $400 and be serving jail time because you had the audacity to sit on the sidewalk because you’re homeless … that’s just not justice,” said attorney Colleen Mullen, who has defended homeless clients against tickets.

Los Angeles has more than a dozen “quality-of-life” laws — restricting sleeping on the sidewalk, living in a car or low-level drug possession, for example — that police enforce against homeless people, usually with a citation.

Los Angeles Police Department officials attribute the rising arrests to the spread of homelessness and related crime. City officials say they have to balance the rights of homeless people against the quality of life and safety of the whole community.

“What we’re trying to do is our best to serve and solve a complex problem that is far beyond what we have been given the tools and mechanics to fix,” Cmdr. Todd Chamberlain, the former head of LAPD homelessness efforts, said in an interview.

But tickets catch homeless people in a revolving door of debt and arrests that can disqualify them from housing and jobs and prolong their homelessness, advocates and federal officials say.

The Times analyzed jail bookings provided by the LAPD from 2011 to 2016 — the last year with consistent data — counting those with a “transient” address as homeless.

A spokesman for the LAPD, whose officers made 90% of the city’s homeless arrests in 2016, said that methodology inflated the number because people who simply refused to give officers an address were also labeled as transient.

But the LAPD said in 2015 that a transient address “very likely” meant that a person was homeless, according to a report by then-City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana. Counting transients probably produced “an underestimate” of homeless people, the report said.

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Gale Holland and Christine Zhang
Los Angeles Times

Comments

  1. This is not acceptable. Homelessness is not a crime it is a culture that has evolved for very troublesome reasons that are personal to each individual. They way the system is designed is heart breaking. People of economic and political power seem to have forgotten that the lives of every human being matters and that there are so many other ways to demonstrate that that should mean something. It is our responsibility as a community of leaders to rally around this.

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