Two San Diego police officers look on as residents gather their belongings during a homeless camp clean-up on Sept. 28, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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We pulled this post from the March 15 Morning Report.

San Diego City Councilmembers on Tuesday grappled with takeaways from a San Diego State study that found that negative police encounters left unhoused Black San Diegans reluctant to accept services and aid.

SDSU professors Megan Welsh Carroll and Shawn Flanigan presented research first reported by CBS 8 to the City Council based on surveys of more than 240 homeless San Diegans in 2020 and noted that Black respondents described more frequent interactions with police and efforts to avoid officers. That’s despite the fact that officers on the city’s Homeless Outreach Teams were often crucial connection points to the Convention Center shelter early in the pandemic.

“People avoid services in part because they are offered by the police,” Welsh Carroll said.

The SDSU study recommended – among other tacks – that the city stop enforcing crimes associated with homelessness, remove homeless outreach functions from the police department, increase amenities such as trash pickup and restrooms near homeless camps and institute an ordinance that would dramatically shift how police handle stops.  

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, who has championed police reforms including the ordinance, said after the presentation that she was troubled by the professors’ findings and remained committed to change.

“I also get a little frustrated, and I know we’re not moving fast enough, because everybody including me needs everything right now, but we have to constantly try to overcome what we have all been taught, and to do it in a way where we get buy-in,” Montgomery Steppe said. “Because you know what, we could pass something and we could turn it over, and guess what, it will not be implemented.”

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who requested the SDSU presentation, emphasized that the city has taken steps to increase shelter options and non-police outreach, and asked for suggestions on ways to address public health and safety concerns surrounding homeless camps. The researchers noted that providing bathrooms or trash service that results in regular visits from city staff could aid homeless residents and reduce criminal activity. 

San Diego police shared a statement with NBC 7 saying the department “rejects the study’s blanket claim that police are barriers to those seeking services or are engaged in racial profiling.” The department noted it also provides regular bias training and has policies to ensure officers are behaving professionally.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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