NEWS ORGS POINT SPOTLIGHT ON HOMELESSNESS IN SAN FRANCISCO, LOS ANGELES, AND BEYOND
This week, news publications across the state have joined together to shine a light on the issue of homelessness in California.
The journalistic movement, started by the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED as the “SF Homelessness Project,” has expanded to include more than 70 news organizations, including SFGATE, The San Jose Mercury News, The California Sunday Magazine, ABC7, Youth Radio, SF Weekly, and more.
In an open letter to the city of San Francisco, the Chronicle announced the large-scale partnership. Here’s a clip:
We want to inspire and incite each other as much as we want to prod city and civic leaders.
Fundamentally, we are driven by the desire to stop calling what we see on our streets the new normal. Frustration and resignation are not a healthy psyche for a city.
Our aim is to provide you with the necessary information and potential options to put San Francisco on a better path. Then it will be up to all of us – citizens, activists, public and private agencies, politicians – to work together to get there.
According to the 2016 count, there are approximately 47,000 homeless people Los Angeles County. In Southern California, KCRW and KPCC and the Southern California News Group newspapers (which includes the LA Daily News, the Orange County Register, and nine other papers) will take part in the project, by sharing stories and exploring solutions.
KPCC’s Evelyn Larrubia has a preview of upcoming KPCC coverage, which, starts today (Wednesday), and will include an episode of AirTalk featuring local policymakers, formerly homeless people, and advocates, as well as a story for Morning Edition and All Things Considered about a particular strategy one community is employing, and whether it’s working. Here’s a clip:
…our homeless population has swelled, right alongside the region’s property values. The largest unsheltered homeless population in the nation is right here in Los Angeles.
In January, volunteers counted up nearly 47,000 homeless people, some of whom were packed into shelters, but tens of thousands more were scattered under freeways, in alleyways and park benches across Los Angeles County. That’s about 12,000 more people than live in the city of Beverly Hills (roughly 35,000).
As we reported Monday, more families and women are slipping into homelessness. For the first time in its 125-year history, women and children outnumber single men at the Union Rescue Mission’s shelters.
And Los Angeles is by no means alone.
Frustrated by what seemed like government inaction, forward-looking media directors in San Francisco decided to band together to blanket their airwaves, websites and social media feeds with coverage on the homeless for one week – culminating in a day of news this Wednesday.
We will continue to follow this project as the week progresses.
BILL COULD EXPAND VETERANS COURTS ACROSS CALIFORNIA
On Tuesday, the California Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved a bill that would require the Judicial Council of California to analyze veterans courts run in 25 of the state’s 58 counties, as well as the need for the specialized courts in the other 33 counties.
If you are unfamiliar, veterans courts aim to help, rather than punish, vets who are often suffering from PTSD, other mental illnesses, substance abuse, or a combination of those issues. The veterans courts are similar to alternative drug courts and offer low-level offenders an alternative to incarceration.
KQED’s Katie Orr has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
“(They) fall into issues around dysfunctional family relationships, drug and alcohol abuse, and then they begin to touch the criminal justice system,” [says Wayne Hughes Jr., bill sponsor and veterans program operator]. “And once that happens, they sort of get caught up and lose control and it ends up being a spiral.”
The Judicial Council of California will be responsible for conducting the study and reporting back to the Legislature. The Council’s Sharon Reilly says there’s a variety of reasons some counties do not have veterans courts.
“Probably one of the biggest drivers is in smaller communities it’s difficult to have a court that’s directed to a particular population,” she says. “One of the things that the study will look at is whether there’s opportunities for regional means of making sure that veterans have these services available to them.”
SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY GEORGE GASCÓN DISCUSSES RECENT SFPD SCANDALS AND HOW TO TURN THE DEPARTMENT AROUND
Lately, the San Francisco Police Department has been plagued by scandals involving racist and homophobic text messages sent between officers, as well as controversial police shootings. At the end of May, after a particularly questionable shooting, SF Mayor Ed Lee removed SFPD Chief Greg Suhr from office.
In an interview with Mother Jones’s Brandon Ellington Patterson, SF District Attorney George Gascón—a former SFPD chief himself—shares his thoughts on how to reform the department and increase accountability.
First, Gascón says the department should change its use-of-force policy to require cops to use minimum force necessary during confrontations with suspects. Last week, the SF Police Commission unanimously voted in favor of a new department policy requiring officers to try to de-escalate a situation before using force. That policy change still has to pass through union and city negotiations before it can be adopted. And following training in using minimum force and changing department policy, SFPD officers should also be issued tasers, says Gascón. (At this point, SF is one of the only big cities not equipping its officers with tasers.)
Gascón also stresses that the DA’s Office and the SFPD should not conduct investigations into police-involved shootings. “The worst-case scenario is what we’re doing today,” Gascón told Mother Jones. “Perhaps the only thing that could be worse than that is if we didn’t go to the scene at all.” Instead, Gascón says the California Attorney General’s Office, or a separate, independent division within the DA’s office, should conduct the investigations.
Here are some clips (but go over and read the rest):
The SFPD should adopt a use-of-force policy that requires officers to respond to physical threats with the minimum force necessary, Gascon said. Enforcing a more restrictive policy would both reduce the number of fatal police encounters and put officers at less risk of legal action for running afoul of the “reasonable force” legal standard, he said. Under current interpretations of the law, no particular weapon or level of force is more reasonable than another in responding to threats that pose great bodily harm to officers—but department leadership can draw its own line, Gascon said. “What you do is you’re modifying behavior with this line. And you’re creating a buffer, so that if you make a very restrictive policy, even if the officer violates policy, they’re still very far away from violating the law.”
Currently, the San Francisco police department leads investigations into officer-involved shootings, while the DA’s office conducts its own investigation into the shooting. Investigators from the DA’s office respond to the scene but rely heavily on the SFPD for information, which doesn’t always get passed along. “The worst-case scenario is what we’re doing today,” Gascon said. “Perhaps the only thing that could be worse than that is if we didn’t go to the scene at all.” Earlier this month, a ballot measure was passed requiring the Office of Citizen Complaints to conduct an investigation into every police shooting. Previously it only conducted investigations when a complaint was filed with the office—which rarely happened.
The SFPD can’t continue to investigate itself for shootings involving its own officers, Gascon said. Ideally, the California state attorney general’s office should investigate police shootings, he said, though that agency says it lacks the resources. Gascon has proposed creating a special division within the district attorney’s office that would be exclusively responsible for investigating officer-involved shootings. The division would consist of investigators and prosecutors who were hired and trained specifically to investigate police shootings and would not be involved in the work of the DA’s office on other criminal cases. This would build trust, he said, between the police department and the community in terms of the integrity of police-shooting investigations.
In Gascon’s view, the SFPD should also regularly publish updated information about complaints against officers and use-of-force incidents on its website every 30 days, including the numbers of each, the race of the victims, and the race, gender, and age of the officer involved.
UPDATE ON SHOOTING OF DEPUTIES IN BELLFLOWER: SUSPECT CHARGED WITH ATTEMPTED MURDER OF 10 OFFICERS
On Friday, authorities arrested a male suspect who allegedly shot two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies while fleeing a DUI checkpoint Thursday night. The alleged shooter, Juan Manuel Martinez, has been charged with attempting to murder 10 LASD deputies, and one felony count each of holding a hostage, dissuading a witness by threat of force, and being in possession of a firearm with a prior felony conviction.
The Associated Press has the update.