Homelessness is an
extremely complex social issue that impacts the quality of life in our
community. There are no easy solutions. The Westminster Police Department (WPD)
recognizes there is a fine line between homelessness as a social issue versus a
criminal issue. The WPD recognizes the intrinsic rights of the homeless to be
treated with respect, dignity, and they deserve the same protections as all
members of our community. The WPD also recognizes the rights of persons living
and visiting our community to be free from crime or harassment and the rights
of business owners to conduct their business free from disruption.
There are many causal factors leading to homelessness including substance abuse, mental illness, domestic issues and finances. There are times when the disorder associated with homelessness is criminal in nature, but difficult to enforce. To provide better service to this population, the Westminster Police Department has created three separate partnerships:
(1) The City of Westminster has partnered with City Net. This organization’s specific purpose is to provide compassionate alternatives to addressing homelessness, relocating homeless individuals temporary or permit housing and continue on-going outreach and engagement efforts outside of regular “calls for service.”
(2) The Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) consists of police officers and licensed mental health clinicians from the Health Care Agency. Together, they respond on-scene to situations involving people who are experiencing a mental health related crisis. The goal is to provide the most clinically appropriate resolution to prevent unnecessary incarceration or hospitalization.
The City of Westminster created a comprehensive city-wide Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP.) The HPRP is a three-pronged, interdepartmental approach to tackle homelessness in the city. The HPRP has multiple funding sources and is a partnership between Community Services Department, Family Resource Center (FRC), the Police Department and the Grants and Housing Division. Housing Coordinator, Tami Piscotty, can be reached at (714) 548-3494.
The WPD also has a representative attend monthly meetings of the Orange County Community Officers Working Group (OCCO). This work group consists of Orange County designated Community Outreach Officers. Once a month this group comes together to discuss current homeless related issues. This collaboratively enables the neighboring agencies to establish a “best practice” so the Orange County homeless population has access to shared resources.
While being homeless is not a crime, many kinds of public conduct are illegal and should be reported. These can include:
· Public intoxication
· Aggressive panhandling
· Urinating and defecating
· Consumption of alcoholic beverages in certain public places
· Unlawful camping or sleeping in certain areas
· Obstructing sidewalk
· Threatening behavior
Because many of the crimes involving homeless persons are misdemeanors, a police officer can only arrest a person if the offense was committed in his/her presence. However, a person who witnesses the offense can make a citizen’s arrest by doing the following:
· Call 911 if it is an emergency, i.e., if the crime involves serious personal injury, property damage, or property loss. Otherwise call the non-emergency number at (714) 548-3212.
· When an officer arrives let him/her know that the offense was committed in your presence and you would like to make a private persons arrest. You must also be willing to appear and testify in court.
You do not have to physically take the person into custody. For your safety, such action is discouraged by the Department.
The following information will help mitigate any potential issues with homeless persons.
· If you would like to report an ongoing issue with homelessness you can call Commander Vandergrift at (714) 548-3732 for all businesses east of Beach Blvd. and Commander Upstill at (714) 548-3716 for businesses west of Beach Blvd. WPD also has a Homeless Liaison Officer (HLO)- Officer Roland Perez at (714) 548-3728.
· Avoid verbal or physical confrontations.
· Offering money of food often encourages panhandling. If you are inclined to help the homeless, a better method is to contribute to local charities, missions or food banks.
· Do not permit anyone to camp, loiter or store personal belonging on your property.
· Restrict access to sidewalk overhangs, alcoves, or other areas protected from inclement weather.
· Keep trash dumpsters locked when not being filled or emptied.
· Secure outside storage sheds or containers.
· Lock gates after hours and turn off exterior power outlets.
· Install motion-activated exterior lighting after hours.
· Trim all landscaping to eliminate hiding places.
· Keep property free of trash, litter, junk, etc.
· Establish, post, and enforce rules of conduct for public use of private property. Include signs of nighttime curfews and prohibitions of loitering, illegal lodging, drinking alcoholic beverages, drug activities, etc.
· Install surveillance cameras to cover public areas.