Grass Valley police see increase in homeless-related calls
November 19, 2012
As Nevada City grapples with issues dealing with its homeless population through a camping permitting process, Grass Valley has also increased its attention to its destitute.
Grass Valley Police Department has received a growing number of calls for service involving words such as "transient," squatter," "homeless," and "panhandler" in the last three years, said Police Chief John Foster at a recent presentation to the town's City Council on collaborative efforts with area homeless services agencies.
In 2010, there were 393 calls, representing 1.2 percent of the total calls for service.
In 2011, that number jumped to 572 calls for service representing 1.9 percent of the department's dispatch calls. As of the beginning of October, the number of calls had already surpassed the previous year's total, reaching almost 700 calls or 2.8 percent of the overall calls, according to GVPD.
“I call in about a lot of things. … The point is that this stuff is going on regardless of who is making the calls.”
— Steve Enos,
Grass Valley resident
One Grass Valley resident has given the matter particular attention.
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Steve Enos, a former city councilman, called the police department about issues relating to homeless people at least 61 times in 2010, 136 times in 2011 and 56 times in 2012 through the beginning of October, according to documents obtained by The Union.
Those number translate to 15.5 percent, 23.8 percent and 8 percent of the homeless-related calls in those perspective years, according to The Union's tabulations.
"I don't call about transients or homeless people, I call about people committing crimes," Enos said. "Are a lot of them transient or homeless? Yeah."
Many of Enos' calls involve alleged trespassing, drug dealing, public intoxication and other vagrancy issues, he said. A lot of them emanate from Bank and Neal streets, areas branching downtown from the Safeway parking lot, areas of which Foster said his department is very aware.
"Just because you see a spike in the number of incidents doesn't mean it is necessarily happening more often. It means it is being recognized," Enos said. "It more accurately reflects the reality of what was going on."
Some of Enos' calls result in arrests, others do not, Foster said, noting the department's finite resources don't allow it to respond to every petty offense.
"It's not that it isn't being addressed," Foster said. "We see those issues too, but we're trying to address larger issues from a community perspective, not just one person's perspective."
Thanks to the voter-approved Measure N, a half-percent sales tax initiative that will bring an estimated $2.4 million to Grass Valley, the police department will hire five more officers.
While GVPD's response to Enos' calls have not conflicted with the department's response to more pressing emergencies, Foster said that it had occasionally interfered with answering other calls.
"Yeah, he calls a lot, but I don't ever want to have a citizen second guess calling us," Foster said.
Enos brushes off any notion that his call volumes strain police resources, pointing to the police department's request that citizens be vigilant and report crimes amid decreased staffing levels.
"I call in about a lot of things. I provide information to the officers. I'm doing what Chief Foster asked us to do," Enos said. "The point is that this stuff is going on regardless of who is making the calls."
Since the numbers were tabulated, GVPD has shuttered its own dispatch center and outsourced the service with the Nevada County Sheriff's Office on Nov. 1.
GVPD plans to use its $163,000 in annual savings to fund the addition of three positions, including a clerk to continue to staff the department's public office during regular business hours, a sergeant position and a vacant officer position.
Foster also recently announced his department's focus on partnership tactics with area agencies to deal with the homeless population. Those tactics include an emergency response team comprised of law enforcement, Nevada County Behavioral Health and representatives from the area's largest homeless advocate and shelter, Hospitality House.
Another component is the planned implementation of Problem Oriented Policing team that looks at recurring incidents to analyze why they keep happening.
Lastly, GVPD is working with the courts toward a new judicial entity that would deal exclusively with homeless chronic offenders — similar to drug court.
"I knew that if the call numbers went up, more attention would be given to the issue," Enos said.
Enos said things are getting better. However, he plans to continue to report crimes when he sees them.
"It's not just me doing this," Enos said. "I am thrilled by the number of citizens who are stepping up and calling the police."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4236.
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