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Authorities Hit Skid Row Again

This time, officers fan out in early evening. Advocate for homeless calls it 'grandstanding.'

November 22, 2002|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

As darkness fell Thursday, authorities launched a second round of sweeps through Los Angeles' skid row, a vast homeless encampment just east of downtown where officials say they are determined to root out lawless elements.

Police said "Operation Enough" was intended to address a growing problem of parole and probation violators who are avoiding prison by living in the densely populated, litter-strewn area.

The operation was launched after business organizations decried the huge homeless population in the area, but officials said that complaints had nothing to do with the sweep, which has been planned for months partly in response to double-digit increases in homeless assaulting or robbing each other.

"What we are really trying to do is reduce aggravated assaults and robberies in the skid row area," said Los Angeles Police Capt. Charlie Beck. "Either you catch them in the act or you remove them another way." Beck reiterated that police were going after those who pose a threat to the community, not targeting the homeless.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 23, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 12 inches; 439 words Type of Material: Correction
Skid row -- A story in the California section Friday said the Los Angeles Police Department repeatedly refused Thursday to identify the people arrested in a sweep of skid row. The LAPD made the list of names available after 9 p.m.

Around 5 p.m. Thursday, hundreds of law enforcement officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the California Department of Corrections and the California Youth Authority, as well as federal agents, began massing near police headquarters at Parker Center. The Corrections Department was the lead agency in the sweeps, and many parole officers came from around the state to participate.

Following a briefing, authorities fanned through the neighborhood, some carrying photographs of suspected parole and probation violators. They swept into low-cost hotels, shined flashlights into tents and questioned people on the street. The majority of people on the row, however, were left alone.

But a homeless advocate Thursday blasted what she called indiscriminate harassment of one of the city's most vulnerable populations.

"They went after everybody," said Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest and former Catholic nun who runs Las Familias del Pueblo. Talking of Wednesday's sweeps, she said, "They stood up whole lines of people against the walls. This was not a carefully targeted assault against criminals.... And if they knew about all these criminals before, why did they wait for one day to grandstand? What was the purpose?"

Officials said they did not have a figure on how many people were arrested Thursday. Wednesday's sweep resulted in 108 arrests, 57 of them for parole violations and two for violating probation.

Police refused repeated requests Thursday to identify those arrested. Beck, commander of the LAPD's Central Division, said most arrests were for drug offenses or those who were found in violation of parole for prior drug offenses. But the group included people who had been in prison for assault, burglary, robbery and drug dealing, he said. Police confiscated many weapons, including knives.

In addition to the parole and probation arrests, 19 people were arrested for felony violations, mostly drug possession. Eight were arrested on misdemeanor violations, police said.

Another six arrests were for outstanding felony warrants and 14 for outstanding misdemeanor warrants. Again, police refused to identify the suspects or their alleged crimes. One juvenile was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

Authorities on Wednesday also impounded six cars, made one arrest for drunk driving and handed out 100 traffic citations, both for moving violations and for jaywalking. Those cited were not taken into custody, police said.

Each of those accused of violating their parole was taken to the county jail and will soon appear before a deputy court commissioner to determine whether they will be returned to prison, said Jerome Marsh, administrator of parole and community services for the Department of Corrections.

Callaghan, the homeless advocate, strongly criticized the operation.

"I think our new police chief wants everybody to know who's in town. And while he hasn't been able to do anything about the gang killings in South-Central, he can easily come down and assault the poorest and most vulnerable in the community. I think that just shows that he's a coward."

Callaghan said she considered the first-night roundup of 108 people to be a relatively paltry catch for the police. "The raid proves that most of the homeless on skid row are not criminals. That's the only good news to come out of yesterday," she said.

Bratton, discussing the raid on Wednesday, insisted that the police were attacking criminal behavior, not homelessness.

"This isn't about kicking the homeless off the streets," he said. "I have great compassion for the homeless. But many of these people arrested are violent offenders who make skid row unsafe for people who truly have nowhere else to go."

Jose Luis Hernandez, 74, who has lived at the King Edward Hotel on 5th Street for the last five years, welcomed the sweeps.

"It's good to see the police,'' Hernandez said Thursday night. "Maybe other people have problems with the police, but there are bad people out here."

Bratton said he had far fewer tools to deal with bad behavior on city streets than he had as police commissioner in New York.

He cited California laws that prohibit arrests of people who urinate or defecate in public if there are no public restrooms immediately available.

*

Times staff writers Megan Garvey, Mitchell Landsberg and Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.

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