Pasadena Homeless Arrests, Citations Soar

Published : Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | 8:16 PM

Pasadena city security guards subdue a man thought to have been homeless who was armed with a bladed weapon (inset) during a scuffle at closing time on Friday, August 11, 2017, in the parking lot behind Pasadena's Central Library in the 300 block of East Walnut Street.

Between 2013 and 2018, the number of arrests and citations of homeless people for criminal activity in Pasadena jumped from 637 to 1,801 per year, increasingly putting police on the frontlines of dealing with the intractable problem.

While Pasadena’s reported homeless population has fluctuated over those years (from a high of 772 to a low of 542), the illegal activity associated with homelessness has risen steadily.

Statistics were provided by Pasadena Police Department spokesman Commander Jason Clawson during a wide-ranging interview in which he detailed the unique challenges posed by the homeless problem for police.

“The average number of people being arrested claiming that they’re transient has gone up and we see that,” said Clawson.

Most of the illegal activity in which they engage, he explained, falls into the broad category of “miscellaneous crimes,” including theft, burglary, assault, fraud, robbery, and domestic violence.

There have been serious cases involving assaults with a deadly weapon, and even a homicide.

“We’re looking at that data,” continued Clawson, “and one of the things that we captured is that the primary charges for the arrest of homeless individuals is usually public intoxication or trespassing; meaning people who’ve taken up residency on the side of the freeway or lodging on someone else’s property.”

The police mine data from texts and calls for help, filtering out terms associated with the homeless and their world, and attempt to compile an accurate statistical profile. That process, he explained, is fraught with the inconsistency that characterizes homeless life.

“Some people that are homeless won’t report it, because they use mailboxes, or they do what we call ‘couch surfing,’” Clawson explained. “They may stay with this person a week, they live in their car for a week, may get a hotel voucher for another week.”

These people are technically homeless as they move from redoubt to redoubt, but may not report themselves as such to the police.

Homelessness is not a crime. Yet police often find themselves in social worker-like situations through their interactions with the intinerant population.

“A lot of times people will just default to the police because there’s no other person to call regarding somebody that may be either urinating in public, or leaving trash,” said Clawson. “Maybe they see a bunch of disassembled bicycles or people scrapping materials, so they call the police about it.”

He said a more coordinated approach to the piecemeal way homeless services are delivered is needed.

He also offered an example of how difficult it is to help the homeless on an ad hoc basis.

Clawson said a local church put out the word that they were serving food and drew upwards of 200 homeless people to the event. Once the serving was done, the church members leave and those assembled, now fed, linger since they, typically, have no place to go.

Public urination and defecation, impromptu drinking bouts and altercations occur, until eventually police are called in.

“It’s the unintended consequence of doing good, because the churches are doing great work,” he observed, “but you’re drawing a concentration of people that sometimes don’t follow the rules.”

Clawson was quick to stress the above behaviors do not extend to the vast majority of the homeless population in Pasadena:

“We probably deal with 10 percent on a routine basis and the rest just exist — they’re service-resistant,” he said.

By “service-resistant” Clawson meant homeless people who decline shelter at a local center, or who prefer to continue living with their addiction rather than seek help.

“There’s a lot of things that may not even be a crime, yet the police are defaulted to handle the problem,” he said.

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