SF requests copter to hunt squatters: story in Project Censored

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 13 Apr 1998 12:00:33 -0700 (PDT)

=46WD via Food Not Bombs list, reporting that The FNB story below made it
into Project Censored's Top 50 list of undercovered stories for 1997.
Tuesday, Nov. 11, 1997  Page A 6  =A91997 San Francisco Examiner



     Jim Herron Zamora
     Zachary Coile of The Examiner staff contributed to this report.

          There will be no heat-seeking helicopters flying over Golden Gate
Park any time soon.
          Oakland Police Chief Joseph Samuels turned down The City's
request to borrow a police helicopter equipped with a thermal imaging
system to buzz the park in search of homeless encampments.
         "The chief declined the use of our helicopter and thermal imaging
system because he believes that it's an inappropriate use of our
equipment," said Sgt. Robert Williams, aide to Samuels.
          In other developments, the group Food Not Bombs staged a peaceful
protest on the eastern edge of the park at Stanyan Street on Monday night.
About 50 protesters called on The City to end its sweeps of homeless
          Police officers have been rousting those caught sleeping in the
area near Haight Street for more than a week. While protesters prepared for
arrests, none was made.
          Oakland police declined to elaborate, but said the department
told San Francisco police last week it was reluctant to have its helicopter
equipment used for politically volatile purposes.
          San Francisco Police Chief Fred Lau said Monday he wants to
borrow a helicopter equipped with a thermal imaging system from a different
jurisdiction, but would not disclose any prospects.
          Lau said last week that in the long run The City should consider
purchasing a thermal imaging system for one of the department's two
helicopters. It would cost $100,000, he said.
          Oakland's decision to turn down The City's request will
temporarily derail the helicopter flyovers, an idea trumpeted by Lau and
Mayor Brown.
            For his part, Lau said he is still sold on heat-seeking
technology, for its crime-fighting and public safety values. He said such
equipment should be viewed as valuable for emergency rescue operations in
areas like the Presidio.
          "This could save lives," Lau said.
          Lau cited an incident in August 1995, when The City borrowed
Oakland's helicopter with its heat-seeking equipment for several hours to
search for a gunman who had wounded a police officer and fatally shot a
police dog. Lau said the device helped police find the man hiding in some
          Protesters at Monday night's rally said they opposed the
helicopter surveillance as well as the Police Department's stepped-up
attempts to remove campers from the park.
          "The whole homeless sweep is so ridiculous," said Rahula Mullen,
a Food Not Bombs volunteer. "There is no place for them to go. The shelters
are full." Sarah Menefee, a homeless supporter, said the crackdown has only
exacerbated the problem by forcing the homeless into the neighborhoods. She
blamed the media, in part, for fueling the controversy.
          "I believe the press is totally implicated in the scapegoating
that started these sweeps," Menefee said.
          The protesters said they believe city officials have used the
image of criminals and drug addicts in the park to target those who simply
have no other place to sleep.
          "What's happening now is that the hand of the law is coming down
hard on people whether they are criminals or not," said Andy Rose, a Haight
resident and Food Not Bombs volunteer. "There are criminals in the park,
but homelessness is not a crime."
          Protesters at the rally waved banners and chanted; some held up
an oversized figure of Mayor Brown wearing a clown suit. Police cruisers
passed by every few minutes, but no arrests were made.


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