Carrot and Stick for Street People

Police Pick Up Too Many Transients for Justice System to Handle

Santa Barbara Police Sgt. Ed Olsen told a roomful of downtown business owners that his officers were ready, willing, and able to pick up street transients violating the law but said that that the prosecutors, the judges, and the jail simply can’t handle the volume his officers can generate. “No one matches our output,” Olsen told the early morning crowd of Downtown Organization members meeting at the library’s Faulkner Gallery. “The problem is bigger than the infrastructure can handle,” Olsen said, “not the police department.” Olsen ​— ​who identified young “travelers” as the biggest nuisance ​— ​said his officers often wait until Fridays to arrest transients because that keeps them off the streets for the entire weekend. Because of the department’s increased activity, Olsen said, the jail was releasing probation and parole violators. Most of those, he noted were “North County arrestees.”

Singing a slightly different tune was Officer Keld Hove, one of two officers assigned to hook chronic street people up with social services. Hove noted that 115 people have now been through the homeless court program, 22 of whom were reunited with their families, 26 opted out, and 14 found places of their own in which to live. He stressed that the lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key option no longer exists. If it costs $160 to book someone in County Jail and $550 to get a room at the Faulding Hotel for a month, maybe it makes sense to spend the $500 up front if it will save taxpayers $5,000 in the long run. (Continued funding for that program, however, remains in doubt.) Using the laser from his Taser as a pointer, Hove presented a slide show highlighting his success stories. “We are not changing these people to become us,” he stressed. “We are changing them from going to jail.”

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