Week 4 – A Smörgåsbord of Information
This week’s session was actually divided into 3 mini-classes so this post might be a bit all over the place, apologies…
Santa Monica’s Homeless Liaison Unit was created in 1991 to partner with social services to provide outreach to Santa Monica’s transient population.
- Homelessness is not a crime
- The team consists of 6 officers, 1 supervisor, 1 department of mental health clinician
- Not assigned radio calls, this is their full time assignment
- Dedicated phone number (310) 458-8953 to report ongoing homeless related issues
- West Coast Care (contracted outreach provider)
- CA has 118,000 homeless, 22% of the homeless population in the country
- To receive services you have to be homeless in the city for 5 years or more, or have previously lived or worked in the city
- This unit takes a proactive rather than reactive approach
- Project Homecoming sends people back to their families
Basically they identify the homeless people that cause a disproportionate number of radio calls and disturbances, and work to try to connect those people to help and resources. It’s the ‘stopping problems before they start’ and ‘preventing future problems’ theory to law enforcement, and that is where my interest in all of this lies. Not in homelessness specifically, but in that middle part of the venn diagram where enforcing laws and helping people overlap.
I keep trying to write a post about where that interest comes from and why I am doing this class, but every time I stop and delete it. I’ll just say that my early experiences with police taught me that they are not there to help, and calling the police will just make a bad situation worse. (I’m not going to post private details online but if you know me in real life and want to discuss this, just ask.) As an adult I know that’s not accurate, but lessons learned as a kid under traumatic circumstances are not the kind you can just shrug off, ya know?… Anyway, this was the topic I was most looking forward to this week.
A lot of the discussion centered around issues of addiction and mental illness (how could it not?!) but the question I asked was about the homeless who are not addicts or mentally ill, people who might get up and go to work every day but sleep in a tent under a bridge. There’s a housing crisis in LA and I personally know a few people in those situations, so I’d imagine it happens in Santa Monica too… It wasn’t a really specific question I guess, just sort of a ‘is this on your radar?’ and the answer was no, it’s not. I don’t even know what could be done in those situations, but I imagine even a “normal” (I hate that word) person who finds themselves on the street could easily fall into hopelessness and despair which are the exact conditions that can lead to addiction and let mental illnesses flourish uncontrolled. sigh… I don’t know the answer, I don’t even know the right questions to ask, but I know it’s a problem.
Next up we heard from two very articulate and poised young women about the Explorer program and the Cadet program. I’m going to leave you with those two links to read because my notes are basically a very poor restatement of the info that is on those pages, but you really should click and check them out. (The only thing I wrote in my notebook that isn’t at one of those two links is “Suzie = mom”)
There was also a specific typo in one of the presentation ‘slides’ which just so happens to be my biggest pet peeve, so now I’m considering becoming a criminal mastermind. Or maybe I’m a melodramatic smart ass. Definitely one of the two.
Our last topic of the night was “Life of an Officer” where two officers spoke with us about exactly that. Both of them impressed me very much with their willingness to talk openly and honestly, but I’m kind of hesitant to share exactly what was discussed because of those exact same reasons… I know they knew they were speaking to an audience (what terrible grammar, sorry) but putting someone else’s thoughts online is a whole different thing than talking to group of people in a room so I’m going to leave it there. They were so approachable that I asked them privately why so many cops hate being called cops. It’s something that no one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction, and it’s looking like there is no real answer. What started as one of the most adorable ways to refer to police (“constable on patrol”) has been said in snotty tones by so many for so long that it’s just kind of perceived as an insult. Which is sad.
Now the information all of you have been waiting for!
Tonight I asked 4 different officers “what is the closest entertainment media has gotten to accurately portraying the reality of law enforcement.” One officer chose Lethal Weapon, but then changed their answer to End of Watch. The next Officer had no answer. Another Officer chose Southland. The final Officer initially chose CHiPs, but immediately changed their answer to End of Watch. I’ve never seen End of Watch, but I think I should change that soon.