Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Exploring @TJJohnston415's rich citation data

Great work yesterday by T.J. Johnston for the @SFPublicPress: he persisted in a records request (not easy) and extracted some information that's tragic in its actual meaning, but exciting to anyone who already presumed this stuff was going on but wanted actual figures. He writes:
"Data from the San Francisco Human Services Agency show that local law enforcement issued 39,714 citations between 2006 and 2011 for a variety of so-called “quality of life” offenses, including sleeping outside, blocking sidewalks and trespassing."
Courteously, the Public Press provides the full data set in a link directly from the article, right here.

I do have a bunch of questions about the data on this spreadsheet from my perspective as a sometime citation defense lawyer. Especially, it's hard to tell from the article whether these figures represent all citations issued under the specified statutes, or only those citations issued to people who the officer believed to lack housing. Also, have to wonder if that 2011 data might be an undercount.

(TJ, if you're reading, could you drop me a line about this at bridegam at gmail dot com? Thanks!/M)

 A couple preliminary thoughts (more substantive stuff to follow later):

  • While it's a great achievement to have extracted this much data from the city, some kinds of citations aren't on the list that the defense program associated with the Coalition on Homelessness used to defend. Notably we're missing the whole category of jaywalking, which is an old and popular tool in selective harassment of visibly poor people.
  • It's disappointing to see citations are still being issued for Sec. 3.02 of the Park Code. This code section is an old pet peeve of mine because it says simply that people have to obey the signs in the park. It's a tautology of an ordinance. But it's all over the city's park signs -- e.g. in the example at right, in Union Square (click to enlarge). I don't think it's legal to convict someone of an offense under this section unless the requirement stated in the sign is itself both justified by law and clearly posted, and it doesn't seem like that showing is necessarily made all the time. 
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