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As a state Assemblyman and candidate, Mayor Todd Gloria criticized his predecessor for “criminalizing the unsheltered” and suggested significant change would come on his watch.
Ten months into Gloria’s term, Lisa Halverstadt found that police are continuing to ticket homeless San Diegans for violations associated with homelessness, though citations haven’t been as numerous as they were on former Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s watch before the pandemic forced reduced jail bookings and enforcement. Police say enforcement has also increased in the past few months following a spike in complaints and public health and safety concerns.
Gloria and the director of the city’s new Homeless Strategies and Solutions Department emphasize that the new mayor has ordered police to take a more compassionate approach in their encounters with homeless San Diegans. They said the city has invested in more non-police outreach and a broader array of services to try to move more people off the street.
The mayor’s approach to crimes tied to homelessness has frustrated advocates who expected the mayor to take more dramatic action to reduce enforcement. Like Faulconer, Gloria has also been hit with criticism from those who would like to see more of a crackdown on homeless camps.
An Interesting Find: As Halverstadt dug into Gloria’s enforcement policies, she learned that police recently started citing homeless San Diegans for violations like encroachment even when they accepted offers of shelter but beds weren’t available. Police said it helped them document those offenses and allowed city attorneys to decide whether to file charges.
Gloria’s office said the mayor ordered police to halt that practice after questions from Halverstadt because the practice didn’t match up with his direction that the city take a compassionate approach to homelessness.
Tomorrow Night: Halverstadt will be moderating a Politifest panel Friday at 5:30 p.m. about the role police play in addressing homelessness in the city — and what has been changing in recent history.
She’ll be talking to homeless advocate John Brady, Think Dignity Executive Director Mitchelle Woodson and San Diego police Capt. Shawn Takeuchi, who leads the police division focused on homelessness and quality of life issues.
Have questions for our panelists? Share them here.
Enforcement 101: Halverstadt teamed up with Adriana Heldiz to explain the most common violations police use to crack down on homeless San Diegans. Watch their video explainer here.
Politifest Recap: When Tough on Crime Goes Wrong
In 2014, Aaron Harvey was arrested and faced the potential of life in prison.
He was one of 15 San Diego men who former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis charged with a gang conspiracy charge over a series of shootings by Lincoln Park gang members in 2013. Harvey and other men who were arrested had nothing to do with the shootings, exposing problems in the state’s gang database.
The charges against Harvey were eventually thrown out and the case prompted former Assemblywoman — now Secretary of State — Shirley Weber to demand an audit of the database. Harvey and another man in the case, Brandon Duncan, received $1.5 million from the city of San Diego after filing a civil lawsuit for their wrongful arrests. Harvey just graduated from UC Berkeley.
On Wednesday, Harvey sat down with our former Managing Editor Sara Libby during Politifest to talk about the impact his case had on criminal justice issues in the region. The case of these men galvanized their community, and even galvanized some politicians and reporters, to start paying attention to how gangs were being used to mass incarcerate people in Black and Brown neighborhoods.
“I think my case was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Harvey said.
Harvey talked about what his case had changed, but the reality, he said, is that many things remain the same.
There are still men carrying out life sentences who were wrongly arrested along with him, he said. While a state law was passed after his case that let people challenge their inclusion in the state’s gang database, few people have successfully gotten themselves off. And while District Attorney Summer Stephan hasn’t used the same penal code to charge anyone else with gang conspiracy charges in the way Harvey was, the office still “has a tool box — not a tool shed — to go after Black and Brown people. And they do it,” he said.
One of Harvey’s major takeaways that he wants to instill in everyone who cares about these issues is that district attorneys have enormous power.
“They are, in my opinion, the number one reason for mass incarceration,” he said.
Harvey told Libby that he would love to see more pressure and attention on what they do, suggesting an audit to see to the full extent of how their various practices and policies disproportionately impact Black and Brown people.
Officials Debate Practicality of Punishing Officials Who Mislead Public
Over the summer, San Diego’s auditor released the findings of a months-long study into the city’s botched real estate deals and made recommendations going forward. The study noted that critical information about a pair of buildings that are now at the center of a criminal investigation wasn’t shared with the City Council, adding millions of dollars to the total cost.
What followed Tuesday at the City Council meeting was an interesting debate over how exactly to hold officials accountable.
As the Union-Tribune reported, several elected officials backed a recommendation from the auditor that any employee who lied to the City Council should face criminal prosecution, whereas others sided with City Attorney Mara Elliott and the city’s white-collar workers who said the idea is unworkable and perhaps illegal.
The newspaper quoted Elliott as saying the standard isn’t well defined: “We don’t know how to write something that says material facts were not given to the council… It’s a really slippery slope.”
In Other News
- In a new editorial, police accountability advocates Julia Yoo and Lauren Bonds argue that activists must keep their momentum going in order to reform state and federal policies that can hold police accountable. Read the op-ed here.
- KPBS reported earlier this week that safe streets advocates have been pushing for the decriminalization of jaywalking — a crime invented by the automobile industry in the early 20th century. Data provided by the city reveal racial disparities in the enforcement of jaywalking laws.
- The Union-Tribune reports that San Diego County’s median home price bounced back up to $740,000 in September after a decline for two months. One economist said home inventory seemed to play a bigger role than mortgage rates. The number of homes for sale throughout the county remains at historic lows.
- The San Diego Community College District will use COVID relief funds to forgive $3.9 million in student debt. The debt forgiveness will apply to students who were enrolled in the summer and spring of 2021 and still have unpaid tuition. San Diego Community College follows Southwestern College, which forgave $1.5 million in student debt earlier this month.
This Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, Maya Srikrishnan, Jesse Marx and Will Huntsberry. It was edited by Megan Wood.