Testifying in the criminal trial of two fellow patrolmen, San Diego police officers and supervisors Wednesday described in detail a policy of clearing transients off downtown streets, with one lieutenant with more than 30 years on the force saying the Police Department commonly refers to the practice as "Greyhound therapy."
A second supervisor, who works as a police agent and acting sergeant on the downtown beat, said the roundup policy was prohibited in the department's conduct manual, but added, "I don't know of any supervisors who haven't witnessed the practice" and allowed it to continue.
A third officer, with 10 years of patrol duty, testified that the policy was condoned by the chief's office and high command because police administrators were tired of seeing homeless people on downtown streets while driving to headquarters.
"They were aware of it," Officer David Hoffman said of the chief, deputy chiefs and commanders on the seventh floor of police headquarters who want the homeless, transients and illegal aliens removed from the city's main commercial district.
He said downtown merchants continually pressure police commanders to move the homeless out of their store doorways and off their sidewalks, and that business people and office workers are always complaining to police about the many homeless people lining the streets.
"The supervisors at particular meetings said this came from upstairs, which meant to me the seventh floor of the building," Hoffman said. "The chiefs and commanders probably saw it themselves when they came to work, and they were probably offended by it too."
The testimony was heard in the weeklong San Diego Superior Court trial of Lloyd J. Hoff Jr. and Richard P. Schaaf, now on voluntary leave from their jobs as police officers on the downtown beat. They are charged with robbing and kidnaping three undocumented workers last August and, if convicted, could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison.
As part of their defense, Hoff and Schaaf contend that they never kidnaped or robbed the three illegal aliens. Rather, they insist that they were following the common police practice of "Greyhound therapy" when they drove two of the undocumented workers out of the downtown and that they never had contact with the third.
Hoff, in his first public comments about the case, took the stand briefly Wednesday afternoon and said that, in one of the alleged incidents, he and Schaaf drove two of the illegal aliens to an isolated spot on the railroad tracks.
"We knew that several, if not a great amount of transients, including illegal aliens, sleep along those tracks," Hoff said. "And it was my belief they would not object to being taken there."
Although that description fits the practice of rounding up transients as described by the other officers in the courtroom, police administrators at headquarters declined Wednesday to state whether such a policy exists.
Lt. Greg Clark, a police spokesman, said Tuesday that the chief's office hoped to issue a statement about the matter on Wednesday. But, on Wednesday, he said police officials have decided to wait until after the trial before publicly discussing the situation.
However, Craig Rooten, the deputy district attorney who is prosecuting Hoff and Schaaf, read in open court from the police conduct manual, telling the jury that officers cannot detain or transport law-abiding citizens against their will.
Citizens "must be permitted to go on their way" if officers stop them and cannot find probable cause that they committed a crime, Rooten said in reading from the manual.
But Police Agent Perry Hooper, an 11-year veteran of the force, said officers and supervisors violate that portion of the manual every day in dealing with the transient problem downtown. And he said officers are never disciplined for the misconduct.
"Are you telling us that policy was violated? Have you seen violations of this policy in the downtown area?" Rooten asked.
"Yes, I have," Hooper answered.
"And you are a police agent?"
"Yes, I am."
"And you have two stripes on your arm?"
"Yes, I do."
Other officers said the pressure stems from recurring offenses downtown, particularly auto burglaries, drug deals and transients urinating and defecating on sidewalks and doorways. They said merchants, residents and office workers are tired of the criminal activity and nuisances.
Hoffman, for instance, said police commonly move the transients out of the downtown shortly before dawn as a courtesy to people arriving for work.
"We were asked to clear the people from the streets, so that people coming to work wouldn't see them," he said. "It was done all the time."
Some of the officers appeared reluctant to identify the police supervisors who condoned the practice. The officers either said they could not recall which supervisors approved the policy, or named only those colleagues who no longer work for the department.