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How A New San Diego Police Division Is Tackling Homelessness, Quality Of Life Issues

Homeless people stand among their items along 17th Street in San Diego, Sept. 19, 2017.
Associated Press
Homeless people stand among their items along 17th Street in San Diego, Sept. 19, 2017.
How A New San Diego Police Division Is Tackling Homelessness, Quality Of Life Issues
How A New SDPD Division Is Tackling Homelessness, Quality Of Life Issues GUEST: Paul Connelly, assistant police chief, San Diego Police Department

>>> This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. A division of the San Diego Police Department is dedicated to the issue of homelessness. The neighborhood policing division was introduced last month. Its stated mission is to provide intervention and resources to people living without shelter in various neighborhoods in the city. And to help residents and businesses and coping with the negative impacts of homelessness. Joining me as San Diego's assistant police chief Paul Connolly. Welcome to the program. San Diego residents have seen the homeless population increased dramatically in recent years. One reaction to this new division might be it is about time. What has this new effort been lunch now? >> First of all I would like to say that the new neighborhood policing division was established a month ago as a way to more efficiently address all quality-of-life issues not just those related to homelessness. As we know, the city is faced with a large homeless crisis. That is one of the major things we are currently focusing on. >>> Will the officers attached to the new division be concentrated in just certain areas of the city? >> No they will concentrate on any area of the city that has any type of quality-of-life issues. That is anything from a graffiti issue, narcotics issue, prostitution, chronic deft problems in the area like bikes and vehicles being broken into we will focus on that too. It doesn't matter the location that there is an issue we will allocate resources to address those. >>> I understand the homeless outreach teams that existed along with the psychiatric emergency response teams are now part of this division as well, is that right? >> That is correct. The new neighborhood policing division to sit centralized all of our divisions that tackle quality-of-life issues. Basically now they are all answering to one chain of command with one focus mission. >>> What does that do for its effectiveness for the effectiveness of the teams that already exists. >> It makes us more effective. Before a lot of these teams were assigned to different patrol divisions. We have nine different division throughout the city of San Diego. Although the focus was similar in each division, some of the missions altered are varied from location to location. Now they are answering to one chain of command. We have one focus mission and are better able to streamline or reallocate our resources to focus on a large problem area. >>> As you mentioned, the division was first announced in March. Since then what types of incidents and cases has the neighborhood policing division responded to? >> Recently there were two homicides in the city of San Diego that involved homeless individuals. Our quality-of-life teams who work with homeless individuals were familiar with the names and locations of where a lot of these homeless individuals live whether in a canyon, riverbed, on the streets. Both of these cases, our homeless outreach teams were able to assist the homicide unit in solving these cases. >>> And you outlined how the division would handle the cleanup Francis the canyon in city Heights a multidivisional -- dimensional way of going in and cleaning out a canyon but also offering resources at that time. >> That is correct. A collaborative process that we work hand-in-hand with the city's environmental services Department. The canyon had a lot of trash and debris that needed to be cleaned up. We go into the canyon with our homeless outreach team and service providers. We offer services to those in need. Those who were willing to accept services we provide those services to them. We also marked the area for abatement which we are required by law to give a 72 hour notice. After the 72 hours, we go in with environmental services as a security element for them. And then we allow them to conduct a cleanup or abatement. >>> Let me ask you about the challenges police officers encounter when they are the ones offering services to homeless individuals. Some advocates have said that the police department's efforts in responding to the homeless crisis downtown has led to the criminalization of homeless. Homeless people in fact have been known to turn down resources because they are offered by police. Why isn't the city leading this effort with non-law enforcement personnel? >> It is a collaborative effort with law enforcement personnel and non-law enforcement personnel. Our homeless outreach team, their main focus is to provide outreach and services which is the form of medical treatment, temporary shelter with the long-term goal of getting them into permanent housing, a lot of times the locations where homeless people live are not safe for social workers to go on their own. We can go with them and provide a security element and help them with transport to service locations so they can receive proper services. >>> When officers in this division get a complaint about the behavior of a homeless individual, what is the protocol to approaching that individual? >> In the protocol will depend on the type of call we receive. What we train in our outreach team officers and quality-of-life team officers is appropriate that the first thing they should do is offer services to those individuals. There are, however, cases where we don't need to take enforcement action. That is where our quality-of-life team focuses. If a homeless individual is involved in criminal activity that is negatively impacting the community, we will take the necessary action. Sometimes that could be the form of a warning, citation, physical arrests. >>> What kind of assistance will the neighborhood police offer residents and businesses who have chronic problems with homeless people? >> That is the thing with the policing division. Our focus will be working in partnerships with community members and businesses to come up with problem-solving solutions together. We already had a handful of community meetings where we are seeking community input. We are working as a team to tackle some of these larger issues. >>> Speaking of community meetings, there is a homeless storage facility expected to open in Sherman Heights in June despite opposition from the neighborhood. How is the division preparing for the opening of the facility? >> We have already had a couple of community meetings with community members that will be impacted at a storage facility which will be located at 20th and Commercial. As I said earlier we are working in partnership with the communities to come up with strategies to best address the homeless issue in the surrounding area and to ensure that there concerns are now realized. >>> Are you getting the feeling that the opposition to the storage facility is just as strong or is it waning? >> Base of the community meetings from what we saw, the members saw that the police department is serious and committed to working with them and ensuring that their concerns are realized. >>> I've been speaking with assistant chief Paul Connolly with the San Diego Police Department. Thank you very much. >> You're welcome. Nice talking to you.

A new division of the San Diego Police Department is now dedicated to homelessness and other neighborhood quality-of-life issues from graffiti to prostitution and theft.

The neighborhood-policing division was established to centralize resources that deal with quality of life issues, homeless outreach, walking teams and the county's Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams.

“Before these teams were assigned to different patrol divisions, and there are nine different patrol divisions throughout the city of San Diego. So now they’re answering to one chain of command. We have one focus mission, and we are better able to streamline or reallocate our resources to focus on large problem areas," said Assistant Police Chief Paul Connelly.


Chief Connelly said the division has held several community meetings to seek input from residents on better ways to solve neighborhood issues. They have also met with residents who are concerned over the impact of a homeless storage facility set to open in Sherman Heights.

Connelly discusses the new division Thursday on Midday Edition.

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