SF Cops Face Surge of Complaints from Homeless: Activists Blamed

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 12:18:33 -0800 (PST)


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http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/1999/02/03/MN783.
DTL&type=printable
FWD  San Francisco Chronicle  Wednesday, February 3, 1999  Page A13

       S.F. COPS FACE NEW SURGE OF COMPLAINTS
       HOMELESS ACTIVISTS ARE BEHIND THE INCREASE, POLICE CLAIM

       Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer


       Writing citations for public drunks in the hope of getting them off
the streets and into treatment has left San Francisco police with a bit of
a hangover -- a growing pile of complaints lodged by the downtrodden.

       Police Captain Dennis Martel, whose Southern Station beat cops are
at the forefront of the crackdown, said yesterday that his officers
increasingly are the subject of cases filed with the Office of Citizen
Complaints, the civilian watchdog group charged with investigating public
accusations against police.

       Martel said that in some instances, activists for the homeless were
``encouraging these people.''

       ``It does concern me,'' he said. ``Some of these complaints are made
very frivolously -- they are just taking enforcement actions unpopular with
some some special-interest groups.''

       Mara Raider, civil rights project coordinator with the Coalition on
Homelessness, denied that there is any concerted campaign to encourage the
homeless to complain. She said her group simply assists people who have
been targets of the police.

       ``We inform people of what their rights are, what the law is, tell
them what their options are,'' Raider said. ``It's their right; police
shouldn't have a problem with it. We are certainly not harassing the
cops.''

       Martel's officers, who patrol areas South of Market and south of the
Civic Center, began stepping up enforcement of so-called nuisance laws in
November. As part of that program, the city wants to refer chronic public
drunks to mandatory treatment, but implementation has been bogged down in
the courts.

       Martel said the citizen complaints tend to allege that officers had
no reason to cite the person for drunkenness and were thus guilty of
harassment.

       The dispute over complaints is mainly anecdotal, because the Office
of Citizen Complaints has no updated figures.

       ``I've heard the allegation that homeless people are being coached
by homeless advocates to file group complaints or individual complaints . .
. but I have not seen that pattern,'' said Mary Dunlap, director of the
agency.

       ``From this end of things, I do not believe there is a manipulation
of the complaint process going on,'' Dunlap said.

       Steve Johnson, secretary of the Police Officers' Association, said
officers do not want to be put in a situation where they are seen as piling
up numerous citizen complaints.

       Martel added, ``I think there is a general perception (that) where
there is a lot of smoke, there's fire.''

       Raider said an OCC complaint ``is the one option people have when
they believe an officer has wronged them.''

       She added, ``They are certainly not getting support from the Police
Commission, Mayor Brown or Amos Brown,'' the supervisor who sponsored a
crackdown on drinking in public spaces. ``Where can they go?''

       Raider said she understands officers' concerns about piling up
complaints.

       ``The police are stuck in a really difficult position,'' she said.
``The individual officer, just following orders, gets a mark on his
record.''

       Despite the complaints, Martel said his officers have teamed up with
Tenderloin Task Force officers to begin patrols of United Nations Plaza
from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.

       The Board of Supervisors approved a proposal Monday to ban sleeping
and public drinking in the plaza. That law will not take effect until 30
days after Mayor Willie Brown signs it, but in the meantime the uniformed
cops will be watching for illegal behavior, Martel said.

       Officers swept through the plaza last week and made 140 felony
narcotics arrests, Martel said. They made 32 more misdemeanor arrests and
issued 10 citations and 55 notices of infractions for drinking in public
and peddling without a permit.

       ``We have arrested a lot of criminals there,'' Martel said. ``We
want to see what we can do with high uniform visibility, nonstop patrol
presence.''

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