GVPD Strategic Response Team sees results
In its first six months, the Grass Valley Police Department’s Strategic Response Team has seen some measurable progress, by culling calls and complaints around homeless-related issues in the city, according to Sgt. Joe Matteoni.
“The longer this program is in existence, the more positive results you’ll get,” Matteoni said. “I’m happy with the work … It’s been phenomenal. I’m looking forward to see how the next six months or a year goes, and how much more these numbers will drop.”
Overseen by Matteoni, the Strategic Response Team launched in July 2014 after law enforcement saw an increase in calls for service related to homeless issues. Matteoni said the city’s Measure N funds bankrolled four new police officers, allowing the police department to create the response team.
Serving as the program’s sole enforcer, Officer Clint Lovelady began reaching out to the local homeless population, while also meeting with local merchants and groups to gauge different methods of reducing offenses that range from theft, panhandling, property damage and being drunk in public, or under the influence of drugs.
Matteoni said the response team is based on a community policing model, and seeks to reduce crime and improve the area’s quality of life, by giving low-level homeless offenders access to resources and services, rather than putting them in jail.
“I’m expected to work with groups in our community and come up with ideas and ways to problem-solve,” Lovelady said. “I have been assigned as the liaison to the Hospitality House. (So) if there’s issues, they contact me … If their clients are having issues on the street due to mental health issues, alcohol issues, drug issues or just the other clients are not getting along together. We work with them, we solve the issues, and we move on.”
Last week, Matteoni and Lovelady gave a presentation to city council members, highlighting the team’s progress last year. Since its inception, Lovelady has responded to more than 700 calls for service, issued 54 citations, and conducted 58 arrests.
“That looks like a lot, and it is, but what you don’t see is how many people that he dealt with, and helped get into a program,” said Matteoni. “How many people he helped get off the street.”
Matteoni said the department currently does not have statistics on the number of individuals Lovelady helped, though they have created a list of the top 10 homeless offenders in the city.
From July 2013 to July 2014, the 10 individuals tallied a total of 214 calls for service, averaging 21.4 complaints each to Grass Valley Police.
While those same individuals racked up more than 130 calls for service in Lovelady’s first six months, it was just over half the number of calls they tracked the prior 12 months, nine out of 10 of the individuals had a decrease in calls for service of at least 50 percent or more, one even going from 23 calls for service from July to October 2014, to just three calls for service the remainder of the year.
“Those are impressive figures,” council member Jan Arbuckle said last week. “I mean that’s phenomenal for six months, in a brand-new program in this small city.”
In addition to building relationships with the homeless population in local camps and neighborhoods, Lovelady said he has continuously visited homeless offenders in jail in the hopes of convincing them to take advantage of social services.
He is in constant contact with outreach groups like Hospitality House and Turning Point Community Program, which provide services to the local homeless demographic.
Lovelady described a meeting he held with local Mill Street merchants who have complained about homeless offenders for years.
“There’s around five businesses in that area (near Safeway), and they’re all having issues with panhandling, loitering and theft,” he said. “We talked about why all of these issues are happening. Is it because the alcohol is being displayed right by the entrance and exit? What if we move the alcohol to the center of the store so the employees can watch the alcohol so they don’t have the opportunities to walk in and walk out?”
Lovelady added, “Is it because of the Wi-Fi at your business and people are sitting in the parking lot, on the sidewalks and using the Internet? So the passwords were locked off at certain times so people couldn’t use them, and that (helped) decrease the loitering issues.”
Lovelady also got the Salvation Army in the shopping center to put up a fence to detract offenders from entering and leaving with stolen merchandise quickly. Electrical outlets have been covered, and motion detector lighting has been added to the plaza to discourage individuals from loitering overnight.
Lovelady has also met with local property owners to get them to cut back brush on their properties to deter camps.
“I think it’s nice to see the city of Grass Valley kind of raising the bar with our homelessness issues,” Mayor Jason Fouyer said. “As well as getting the private property owners engaged, and realizing if we’re going to solve this problem, we’re going to do it as a community, and it’s not just going to come through handcuffs and arrests.”
Moving forward, Matteoni said the Response Team looks to potentially shore up daily logistics and “to just get better, and more efficient.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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