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Santa Monica Police Begin Enforcement of New Park Curfew

September 24, 1993|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Santa Monica Police Department has started to enforce that city's controversial new park closure law, issuing scores of warnings last weekend and three citations since then to people in parks after midnight.

The enforcement push followed a monthlong effort to inform park regulars that it is now against the law to be in the parks between midnight and 5 a.m., Sgt. Gary Gallinot said.

The law was suggested by City Councilman Kelly Olsen and endorsed by the police as a tool to curb rampant drug dealing in popular Palisades Park. Although the measure passed the council easily, it was attacked as a method of rousting homeless people from the only place available to them.

Gallinot said that on the first night of the sweep, a man arrested for public intoxication turned out to be carrying rock cocaine for sale.

"These are exactly the kind of people we want to target--the criminal element in the parks," Gallinot said.

Last Sunday, a police task force issued 67 warnings, all but two of them in Palisades Park. The next night two who did not heed the warning were cited for violating the law, but not arrested.

If convicted of the misdemeanor offense, they would be subject to fines; repeat offenders could go to jail if space is available.

Two other Santa Monica laws that affect the homeless are being held in abeyance while being challenged in court. A federal judge issued an injunction barring the enforcement of one--a park reservation system that would have effectively ended homeless feeding programs in the park.

The second law, which outlaws encampments in the parks, is not being enforced, although the city attorney has prosecuted a few cases under a similar state law.

A third law, which has been long on the books, prohibits sleeping in the parks overnight. With the support of the City Council, this law is not being enforced at all.

In practice, therefore, what is now considered illegal is being awake in a park between midnight and 5 a.m. Gallinot said about 50 people whom police found sleeping in Lincoln Park each night this week were undisturbed.

One phenomenon noted by police is the small number of people they found in the parks after midnight in a city that officially estimates its homeless population at 1,500 or more.

Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts, who was checking out the parks late one night, said the new law already has been a deterrent. After a month of informal warnings, people have left the parks, Butts said.

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