Homes Not Jails an emerging police policy? Good? Bad? Why?

Tom Boland (
Sat, 2 Oct 1999 22:03:01 -0700 (PDT)

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Will "police as social workers" leave homeless people better off?
Should we welcome this trend?  Why or why not?

Why are corporate media publishing a spate of articles
recently about police helping homeless people?

If the "news" article below were an ad, who and what would it be for?
FWD  [CA, USA] Las Vegas Sun - Wednesday, September 29, 1999


     JACE RADKE, Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A Metro Police officer has admitted to a string of thefts
in downtown Las Vegas.

Officer Eric Fricker's latest theft involved a young family of three who he
met outside of the Salvation Army before the sun came up one day.

``I steal people from the Salvation Army and other facilities,'' Fricker
said. ``I keep a look out for families, the elderly and the mentally ill
and then I steal them. If I can get my claws into a family in the morning I
know it will be a busy day.''

Fricker ``steals'' homeless people and tries to find them low-income
housing and services as one of two officers stationed at the new MASH
Village substation.

Fricker is part of Metro's Homeless Evaluation Liaison Project, or HELP
team, that is now focusing on getting the homeless off the streets through
shelters and services instead of through the Clark County Detention Center.

Just before 6 a.m. recently, Fricker spies the Rodriguez family, Alvaro,
Dorthey and their 6-month-old son, Nathan, as they huddle waiting for
breakfast to be served at the Salvation Army.

Alvaro tells Fricker he lost his construction job and couldn't afford to
make payments on the family's car, which has been repossessed by the owner.

After Fricker calls in some favors, works the telephone and does a little
pleading the Rodriguez family has a permanent spot at MASH Village, Alvaro
gets a lead on a new job, a payment plan is worked out for the car and
Nathan has fresh diapers.

``It tickles me to death to see this guy with a gun doing social work,''
MASH director Ken Robinson said of Fricker. ``This new substation is really
taking the HELP team to new levels. It is really starting to resemble the
vision Sheriff Jerry Keller had when he started the program.''

Keller began HELP in 1991, when he was captain of Metro's northeast area
command, shortly after the American Civil Liberties Union won a suit
against the department over the enforcement of loitering laws and vagrancy

At the time Keller wrote of HELP, ``This team will not be another
two-officer foot patrol ... paddywagon team. It will foster a philosophy of
helping people rather than herding people.''

Fricker and his partner, Officer Bill Stockdale, moved into the new
substation at MASH, on Main Street, on Sept. 1, and have taken the
sheriff's philosophy to heart.

``We give them a lot of freedom, because they are creative officers that
are helping people who need it,'' Downtown Area Command Capt. Dan Berry
said. ``They are able to balance enforcement and intervention.''

Stockdale handles most of the criminal calls in the homeless corridor,
which runs along Main Street from downtown to Owens Avenue and includes the
Union Pacific railroad tracks.

Fricker meanwhile goes about his stealing.

Fricker and Stockdale eat lunch at the major shelters, MASH, Catholic
Charities, Salvation Army and Shade Tree almost everyday, and the homeless
community's response is evident as the officers patrol the corridor getting
waves and smiles from people.

Jerry Johnson, 41, greets Fricker every morning at Salvation Army, where
Johnson works as a cook and supervisor.

Johnson, who lost his job in a Chicago research company and moved to Las
Vegas looking for work five years ago, believes the HELP team is a step in
the right direction when it comes to dealing with the valley's homeless.

``I stayed in a shelter in Chicago for awhile, but there is nothing there
like this with all the facilities crammed in such a tight space,'' Johnson
said. ``With such a high concentration of homeless in such a small area you
can't help but have a high crime rate.

``But by having Eric (Fricker) here and people knowing who he is and not
just that he is a police officer it minimizes any manure that might pop

Fricker and Stockdale usually start their day at the Salvation Army at
about 5:30 a.m. From there they make a patrol through the railyard that
runs just west of Main Street.

``There are some regulars who sleep out by the tracks behind the Salvation
Army and we try to treat them as a community,'' Fricker said. ``We try to
keep track of who's out here and get them into one of the shelters, and we
don't allow them to build any shanty towns or structures.''

The officers have made 166 contacts in the last month and have started
taking photos, names and birth dates from the homeless in the area for easy

``We hope to incorporate the photos into a database, so we can quickly
check the homeless against any suspect descriptions we might have,''
Fricker said.

The process is already coming in handy when the officers are asked to serve
warrants to the homeless.

``We are starting to have a lot more contact with the robbery and sexual
assault details because many times the suspect information reads, `could
have been homeless','' Fricker said.

The partners still make about 20 arrests a month in the homeless corridor,
the majority of which are for warrants. They also hand out about 50
citations a month, mostly for trespassing.

Other HELP program innovations Fricker and Stockdale are working on include
producing a resource card that can be given out to people they meet on
their rounds. The cards will have the homeless services providers' phone
numbers and locations on them.

``We run into a lot of people sleeping outside in the dirt only a few
blocks from a shelter,'' Fricker said. ``Sometimes they get the shelters
mixed up and don't realize there may be one they haven't been to or that
some space may have opened up for them.''


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