City To Revise Safeguards After Homeless Person Scooped Up In Trash Truck
You are listening to KPBS Midday Edition. Symbolically, it was a terrible glimpse into a potential tragedy of sweeping homeless off the street. Three days before Christmas, a homeless person was nearly crushed to death with their scooped into a trash truck and narrowly escaped being crushed. Reporter is here to talk about how the city of San Diego has responded to the incident. Thank you for being with us . >> Good morning . >> Remind us what happened and how tragedy was averted . >> The city was doing one of their frequent abatements where they clear the sidewalks of tenants and shanties. Homeless people who camp in the East Village who do not have anywhere to live, they were doing a cleanup three days before Christmas along commercial Street. The work crew loaded up a tent that they thought had discarded trash and scooped it into the back of a trash truck and moments before they were going to activate the compactor, they heard screaming and a person alerted them to there being inside and the person was able to climb out and apparently meandered off without intervention from the city. I keep saying non-gender specific because the city has been unable to say that with a man or woman. I was told it was a man. They asked later, they said they thought it was a woman but they cannot be sure. >> How did the Union Tribune discovered this had happened? It was just a few days later . >> I learned about it maybe two weeks ago. I did some digging, and when I approached City Hall I had specific questions. I knew what had happened from talking to people and so I did not ask for confirmation as much as an explanation. They took a day or two to get back to me and I reported that a few weekends ago . >> What was the protocol that was supposed to happen? >> The process is that the police are on hand and post notices three days in advance that the cleaning will happen. The police show up and make sure everyone is out and they sign off. They alert the code enforcement team that this area is good to go. At that point, environmental services take over and they often have contractors that do the legwork. They remove the refuse. In this case, the tent that they were lifting into the truck contained a person. It is clear that someone dropped the ball. Probably multiple people. They did not look inside of it. >> Were the police supposed to clear the area before the cleanup happens? >> Yes. That is how the protocol works. Is under an agreement that the city made a few years at -- back after litigators sued the city. They reached an agreement. Those protocols were not adhered to . >> The police have not said whether or not they cleared the area. >> The police have not discussed this issue publicly. At least not with the Union Tribune. I asked a few times and City Hall has been more forthcoming. Although, they do not discuss disciplinary actions. >> Do the homeless have a chance to get possessions before everything is swept >> That is the protocol that the city agreed to in 2011. It was the ICS settlement. The city is supposed to look at the material, clear the area and make sure no people are there, and evaluate the material that is about to be discarded and make sure it is not anything of value. If it is determined to be of value, they need to take it away and store it and post notice of where it is stored so the owner can have a chance to reclaim it. Obviously, that did not happen. Some of the advocates I spoke to said that these violations happen too often. >> What does the city say they will do now to make sure this does not happen again? >> Yesterday they issued a memo, two pages, outlining specific steps that they say will help them to make sure this does not happen again. It regards training, they will have a department supervisor on site for his or her -- or his or her designee, the police will wear cameras to document, and they will photograph the specific tents and materials that will be discarded. Both before they are determined to be approved for discard, during the abatement and following the abatement. I guess if anything, if it were to happen again, they would at least have video footage of the person being saved . >> Leaping out of the back of the truck. My goodness. Has anyone lost their job? >> Yes. A deputy director for the environmental services Department was dismissed on Friday last. She was escorted out of City Hall. The city does not say who she was. They also did not dispute that she was no longer employed by the city. Some of the commenters said that maybe a deputy director is not the appropriate person to be disciplined over something like this. It is also not clear that this incident is what led to that deputy director's dismissal. All that the city will say on the record is that appropriate actions were taken. >> I would be remiss, Jeff, but did not ask you about the discussion in your newsroom about the pending sale of the Tribune. >> It is interesting. Everyone has fingers crossed and we're hoping to do good journalism. The debate is whether it is a good idea to be corporate owned or privately held. We will see how it shakes out. The Union Tribune has had experience with both. This will be our fifth owner since 2009. No one is sure and we will see what happens. We are watching closely. We hope for the best . >> Thank you. that is Jeff McDonald from the San Diego Union Tribune.
The city of San Diego said it will make changes following an incident in December where a homeless person was nearly killed after being scooped into a garbage truck during a cleanup of a homeless encampment on a city street.
The city said a supervisor or designee will now be at each cleanup, photos will be taken during the process, police officers will activate their body cameras while taking part in the process and training will be increased.
The incident that prompted this change was uncovered by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Jeff McDonald, investigative reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune, joined Midday Edition Wednesday to discuss what happened and the city's response.