Monday, June 4, 2012

Data on what's wrong with SF Sit/Lie

This article isn't on WRAP's @withouthousing feed but it's essential reading in the sidewalk-policing debate.

[Update: I'm told the author is Bob Offer-Westort at the Coalition on Homelessness. Shoulda known. It's so good in the fine grain.]

It provides angry informed context for a good detailed report, completed in March but apparently released May 23, about city statistics -- embarrassing ones -- on the first year's application of the San Francisco's "sit/lie" ordinance. The WRAP writeup says the authors, as City Hall Fellows, were given better access to city records than activists or attorneys can sometimes manage, so the resulting document is especially valuable.

The SF Weekly also wrote up the report on May 24 but in less detail. Huffington Post picked it up from there. WRAP's version is reprinted in the paper-only Street Sheet, but with no URL for the report, which is a pity.

The report is a doozy.

San Francisco's Sit/Lie ordinance theoretically punishes sitting or lying on public sidewalks. In practice it's mainly a tool for police to use in telling people to stand up and/or go away. Not a terribly necessary tool, either.*

The report says the number of actual sit/lie citations differ wildly from one police station (i.e., local district) to the next. Most of the citations have been issued by Park Station officers, who cover the area that includes the nastily contested Haight-Ashbury main drag. There, "Based on Park Station's internal logbook, 90 percent of the citations issued were to repeat violators of the law, and more than half were issued to just four individuals." With, says the report, no particularly new or useful result from anyone's perspective.

This matters a lot because of recent news that the mayor of Berkeley is calling for a sit/lie ordinance on the November ballot over there.

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* Footnote: It has been a generation or two since "crimes of status" were declared unconstitutional. It is simple standard fact that police can't arrest a person for unspecified "vagrancy," nor for "loitering" unless the loitering is alleged to involve some specific prohibited intent such as prostitution. To make an arrest, they have to accuse someone of a specific criminal act. Hence, state and local laws were invented long ago that define as criminal a whole range of acts that people tend to do when spending any length of time on public property. But this stuff is, unfortunately, the same old hornbook poverty law and I'm sick of repeating it.

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