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Crime off, but plan is faulted

A skid row program adds police but few social services, and jaywalking citations can lead to jail sentences, a UCLA study says.

September 26, 2007|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

A UCLA study found that the city's year-old Safer City Initiative to clean up skid row has reduced crime but that few additional social services have been initiated.

"There have been unintended consequences that have negatively impacted the homeless and mentally disabled people, with unpaid citations for jaywalking leading to people going to jail and a focus on small-quantity drug buys ending up with ordinary addicts being sent to state prison," said author Gary Blasi, a UCLA law professor.

But top Los Angeles Police Department officials said Tuesday that the study cannot deny the more than 35% drop in serious crime in skid row as well as a similar drop in the number of homeless people on the streets since the initiative began last September.

"It is more than numbers. We are saving lives with the Safer City Initiative. That alone is a measure of its success. We used to pull dead bodies out of tents, parks and outhouses," said Cmdr. Andy Smith, head of the LAPD's Central Division, which leads the effort.

The push to clean up skid row is centered on the LAPD's addition last year of 50 more patrol officers.

The UCLA study found that since the initiative began, the sheer number of officers in skid row has led to the drop in crime.

It noted that most of the 1,000 citations issued monthly are for jaywalking and loitering.

Homeless people repeatedly ticketed for jaywalking or loitering are eventually being jailed for failing to pay fines, according to Blasi, whose team gathered 15,000 pages of public records.

"If this is meant to change behavior, it is not working," he said.

Because the arrests lead to criminal records, the homeless are becoming ineligible for housing, the study said.

The UCLA study notes that Police Chief William J. Bratton warned that policing alone would not end the problem of chronic homelessness on skid row.

But Blasi said the city has paid little more than lip service to efforts beyond law enforcement.

Other steps, he said, include producing 199 extra beds in a downtown shelter and space in a South L.A. shelter.

LAPD's Smith said there is no doubt the city needs to invest in additional housing for homeless people but said that is not a reason to stop enforcing the law

He said the UCLA study assumes incorrectly that all those cited for jaywalking are homeless.

The citations deter repeat offenses, he said, even when those cited are homeless or ill.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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