[Hpn] San Francisco D.A. wants to slash nuisance crime team

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 21 Jun 2001 12:59:39 -0700


wow! the SF Chronicle is emerging as the Bay Area's major info-tainment
source!

the article below describes the latest development in an issue we've been
involved with for a couple of years. Mayor "Elect-Me-And-I-Will-End-Matrix"
Willie Brown sneaked a quarter million dollars into the City's budget two
years ago to prosecute quality-of-life offenders. Brown's problem was that
D.A. Hallinan had enough integrity not to prosecute homeless people for
survival activities like sleeping or urinating, so Brown added the money to
the City Attorney's office in direct violation of SF's City Charter (it's
not in the City Attorney's purview to PROSECUTE anyone for anything).

Last budget cycle, Hallinan's office swooped down on this quarter million
dollar line item and took over the prosecution program. This budget cycle he
wants to redirect the dough toward raises. Hoo-rah. And he's taking hits for
it.

Why doesn't Hallinan want to prosecute? One major CHRONICLE
misrepresentation in the article below has to do with referring folks to
"services." Anyone looking at SF's homeless budget knows that these services
are largely non-existent and are woefully ineffective. For example: the 43%
of the 308 cases cited below referred to "substance abuse treatment, English
classes and counseling" were handed AA meeting schedules -- that was the
extent of the "referral" the court provided.

Our D.A. clearly doesn't deserve this hit, and like most of the recent wave
of quality-of-life CHRONICLE hit pieces, the misrepresentations abound. My
favorite is describing Adam Arms as AN attorney for the Coalition on
Homelessness. Not that we'd exactly be complaining about harboring a gaggle
of shylocks in our offices, but how many attorneys do YOU know that would
work for $22,500.00/year in a town where the top range of what is considered
"low-income" stands at $40,000.00/year. Get the point?

The other issue the article studiously avoids reporting is the real reason
why only 308 cases made it to court last year: because SFPD routinely
mis-applies statutes or otherwise cannot seem to write citations that any
reasonably competent prosecutor could bring to court. It seems SFPD's
relationship with the competent execution of their duties is about as
tenuous as the CHRONICLE's relationship with facts. That becomes even more
apparent as we see that the only hard facts in the article below originated
from this office.

The once-proud CHRONICLE is apparently in a neck-and-neck race with the
once-proud EXAMINER to the final bankruptcy of every known standard of
journalistic integrity, with Mayor Brown's press office guiding the path for
both.

peace,

chance
===============================================

D.A. wants to slash nuisance crime team
Funds budgeted to prosecute homeless should be used for raises, Hallinan
says 

Ilene Lelchuk, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2001/06/21/MN83542.DTL

In a city where homelessness is a perennial and political problem, San
Francisco's district attorney wants to slash his prosecution team that
targets public drinking, camping and urination despite Mayor Willie Brown's
longtime call for crackdowns.

District Attorney Terence Hallinan, a liberal prosecutor who doesn't hide
his distaste for charging the homeless, wants to cut funding for prosecuting
or offering diversion programs to homeless offenders who commit so-called
"quality of life" crimes.

The mayor, who said he wasn't aware of Hallinan's proposed $250,000 budget
cut, doesn't want police to stop issuing tickets -- which the district
attorney's office won't follow up on except in severe cases.

"That surprises me, frankly," Brown said, "because I do believe if people
are urinating on the streets and doing the things that are unhealthy and
terribly offensive consistently and repeatedly . . . they ought to be dealt
with. 

"If the district attorney's office chooses not to deal with that, he has to
be accountable to the voters."

It's another chapter in San Francisco's epic battle against the most visual
signs of homelessness, with conflicting -- some say futile -- policies that
start with police citations but rarely end in court, jail, treatment or
housing. 

Hallinan says he's stuck. He needs to slash more than $900,000 from his
budget next year to help fund city attorney raises.

"That program was the latest addition we had in our office, and when you
start figuring out where you're going to make cuts, you're going to start
with the least dangerous offenses," Hallinan said.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the 2001-02 budget late
next month. 

Hallinan's proposal comes as tourist and resident complaints about
homelessness are constant and police are writing more "quality of life"
tickets than when Brown first took office in 1996. That's when he pledged to
end former Mayor Frank Jordan's Matrix program, which strictly enforced
public nuisance laws.

"We're stuck between a rock and a hard place," said police Sgt. Steve Balma
of the department's Southern Station, which focuses on homeless encampments
through Operation Home Team.

"The effectiveness has been zero because the people we continue to cite
understand there are no consequences," Balma said.

Begun by the city attorney 18 months ago, the diversion program intercepted
"quality of life" offenders if they reported to court. A prosecutor asked
many to work community service hours in lieu of paying fines. Homeless
people also were offered counseling and education.

Hallinan's office took over the program this fiscal year. Of the thousands
of "quality of life" tickets issued in the last 18 months, the two offices
handled about 308 cases. Almost 60 percent of those offenders were diverted
into community service, and 43 percent received substance abuse treatment,
English classes and counseling.

"We've clearly had an effect," said Michael Menesini, Hallinan's lone
"quality of life" deputy district attorney.

But police and homeless advocates say that success is debatable.

"To (Hallinan's) credit, he acknowledges that the system was ill-conceived,
" said Adam Arms, an attorney with the Coalition on Homelessness. The group
says the city criminalizes homelessness without offering solutions.

'YOU GOT TO STAY SOMEWHERE'

Police say the system's failure is exemplified by persistent offenders.

Take Mitchell Fullwood, 37, who says Jessie Street is his street.

He has slept for more than a year in a cardboard home in the alley that's
soaked with urine, behind San Francisco's historic empty Emporium department
store. 

Like an innkeeper, he helps other folks erect their shelters, then helps
break them down when the police sweep through, which is about four times a
week. 

The cops have issued Fullwood six tickets, mostly for lodging in public. Yet
he doesn't go to court, he doesn't pay a fine, and he keeps coming back.

"You got to stay somewhere," said Fullwood, who earns a little cash washing
cars on the streets.

He moves out for about an hour when the police move in and the Department of
Public Works cleans the sidewalk.

"As one person eloquently put it, thanks for cleaning our bedroom," said
Officer Alan Honniball.

Many officers are frustrated by the futility of their job, especially under
such unsavory conditions. Several officers contracted hepatitis while
breaking down shelters. The department now offers vaccines.

"It's relocation. That's all it is," said Officer James Custer. "We have to
have more backing to get something done."

Tickets for misdemeanors such as lodging in public are supposed to be heard
in Municipal Court. But even before Hallinan proposed his cuts, Operation
Home Team police say they've never been called to testify.

Infractions are heard in traffic court, where attorneys from the Coalition
on Homelessness frequently represent the street people.

In this informal setting, Arms recently defended a dozen cases, mostly
tickets technically for disobeying signs in Golden Gate Park, which meant
sleeping or wandering off a trail.

He convinced the court commissioner to dismiss about half of those tickets
because police reports lacked detail or the officer cited an inappropriate
law. 

The remaining cases were set for a hearing.

Menesini of the district attorney's office, who wasn't in court that day,
said he tries to intercept as many cases as possible to offer resources to
the homeless. 

Arms pointed out that the district attorney's office referred many homeless
people to substance abuse treatment, but the city programs have waiting
lists. 

If Hallinan's cuts are approved, he said, his office will tackle only the
most blatant offenders, like his recently won case against an alcoholic
woman living at Kezar Stadium for months. Hallinan acknowledged it was the
first such case his office had tried in a long time, and there won't be more
any time soon. 

"I don't think anyone in San Francisco wants to prosecute anyone who doesn't
have a place to stay," Hallinan said.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

E-mail Ilene Lelchuk at ilelchuk@sfchronicle.com.

Life on the street
A five-year breakdown of the number of citations for
so-called 'quality of life' infractions and misdemeanors in San Francisco.
                   
                           1996(x)      1997(x)    1998      1999       2000
Drinking in public     12,465        9,274     10,842     8,758     11,913
Trespassing in doorway  1,677        1,832      2,964     2,698      2,491
Littering/urinating       372          299        311       334        249
In a park after hours     668          813        415       675        905
 
.
(x) Numbers for these years came from the Coalition on Homelessness, which
reported collecting its figures from the court.
Source: San Francisco Municipal Court

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A - 1

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