Palm Springs police chief to launch 'Operation Relentless Sun' to tackle homelessness
Our police officers typically encounter three types of homeless: First, indigent people who want and need help. Riverside County does an amazing job of helping them. Next, those unable to grasp their plight because of mental illness or severe drug addiction. The government generally lacks the capacity and legal authority to force them to get help. In this area, we have failed. Finally, the criminal homeless group who fuels their existence through criminal enterprise and have frequent violent outbursts are the majority of police calls.
Law enforcement, limited by the legislature and courts, has de-policed out of frustration and lack of consequence. The San Diego district attorney published a study that showed the criminal group is disproportionately responsible for crime. They are 175 times more likely to be charged with robbery and 183 times more likely to be charged with burglary than other groups. The majority of homeless fall into the last two categories.
Recalcitrant criminals make a rational choice about how to exist while homeless. They have chosen criminal enterprise because they perceive risk is minimal and the reward is great. I reject that choice. Choosing to commit a crime and not suffering sanctions for this choice cannot be acceptable in a civil society. As a result, I am directing our officers to begin Operation Relentless Sun, on February 1.
Operation Relentless Sun has three components: Create a marketing plan to inform the homeless their choices have consequences. Officers will offer all homeless individuals resources to lift them out of the predicament in which they find themselves. Next, those who refuse will face the full weight of the law. Finally, our officers will conduct frequent point-in-time counts to collect data that demonstrate improvement. I directed all PSPD officers to apply a focused deterrence strategy for the criminal element living amongst the homeless. That means the top 30 most intractable criminals will receive relentless attention through offers of help and strict enforcement. PSPD will meticulously enforce all laws to create leverage and compel acceptable behavior. I believe criminals can make a rational choice to conform to our standards.
The Palm Springs City Council is investing millions into building a Navigation Center to help the homeless transition onto healthier paths. In addition, the city has created new positions, including a housing services administrator and homeless outreach coordinator. Let's be clear, however — we have a standard of living in Palm Springs and cannot allow people to degrade our quality of life. Everyone can have a seat at the table, but this seat comes with responsibility. We all must adhere to the Palm Springs code of conduct. One must choose to live within the standards codified in our laws to expect inclusion.
You can help. For Palm Springs to experience long-term results, the effort must go beyond just enforcement. We need street-level mental health workers in Palm Springs and we currently have none. The county can fund two workers for Palm Springs to help the homeless get off the street. Palm Springs has the highest number of homeless per capita in Riverside County, so focusing here seems logical. Those who cannot grasp their peril because of drugs or mental disorders must be detained in a secured facility. The legislature must immediately create laws to enable secured detention. The city can develop resources to clean up homeless camps regularly. The amount of rubbish left behind is astonishing.
If we execute the mission properly, we can make progress in reducing homelessness and the visual blight associated with urban camping.
To our homeless neighbors: We know you did not envision your life living on the street, baking in 120-degree heat. I implore you to accept help. Your path is unsustainable. Please, let us work with you to find your way back to a healthy life. I am assigning officers to help you succeed. Now, you must do your part.
Andy Mills is Palm Springs' Police Chief. His email is Andrew.Mills@palmspringsca.gov.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs police chief's new aggressive plan on homelessness