LA is “crafting a new plan” for Skid Row – unfortunately in reality it’s really just talking points.

OCANO PHoto

May 2014 – Carlos Ocano, a homeless Skid Row resident with a known mental illness, who fell to his death after LAPD SWAT Team shot him with non-lethal ammunition. Why was SWAT called instead of the System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART), which pairs mental health professionals with specially trained officers? (Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Police Department and City of Los Angeles are “crafting new plan to help homeless on skid row.” This includes “developing a new strategy for taming pervasive homelessness on skid row, easing up on arrests for petty offenses while concentrating mental health, medical, housing and sanitation services in the long-troubled swath of downtown.” Unfortunately, this rhetoric – both on the part of the writer and city officials who are quoted throughout the piece – does not reflect the actual criminalization of an entire community and too often deadly use of force that continues to characterize LAPD policing in Skid Row.

To be clear, LA CAN has opposed “broken windows” policing from the day it was introduced in the form of the “Safer Cities Initiative.” The flawed policing method, introduced by former Chief Bill Bratton in 2006, has brought nothing but long-term devastation  that continues to plague the community. We would welcome any sincere efforts to shift the focus in Skid Row from policing and criminalization to housing, mental health services, and public health infrastructure. These are concrete solutions to ending homelessness that LA CAN has worked on securing for well over a decade.

LAPD San 6

July 2014 – LAPD officers at 6th and San Pedro after telling homeless residents they had to take their belongings and move on or “they would be going to jail.” (Credit: AARON CANTÚ)

However, the residents of Skid Row just aren’t seeing this supposed “more progressive approach” that LAPD Captain John McMahon describes in the article. Rather, residents continue to experience the more of the same: Citations and harassment for basic life-sustaining activities (like sitting or sleeping on the street); a lack of restroom facilities, trash cans, public space and other public services/amenities enjoyed by Downtowners who live west of Main St.; the business community actively opposing projects that would house homeless residents; regular examples of aggressive, violent, and deadly force; Private property theft on the part of Business Improvement District Guards/Workers; Racial profiling and targeting; and, an overall policing style that violates basic civil and human rights and punishes people for being homeless rather than connecting individuals with the services and support they need.

And if there is a new approach to how the community is policed, why haven’t the residents themselves heard about it? LA CAN has tried regularly to set up community meetings in which residents can express their ideas and concerns about the Safer Cities Initiative directly to LAPD and the Police Commission, and those demands and requests have been consistently declined. Recently LA CAN met with new leadership at LAPDs Central Division, secured a community meeting time and date to discuss Safer Cities implementation, only to have the meeting canceled at the last moment.

LA CAN welcome’s a genuine move toward actual solutions to homelessness (housing, services, ending the Safer Cities Initiative) – and have been organizing to make that a reality. However, we fully understand that just because LAPD says something doesn’t make it so – we will be convinced when the rubber meets the proverbial road.

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June 2014 – A female resident of Skid Row being arrested after not listening to LAPD’s orders to get out of the street.