Through Force or Fear
As July comes to an end, we are experiencing our annual upsurge in transient-related complaints.
As summer turns to fall, the Ukiah Police Department (UPD) responds to more complaints and calls for assistance surrounding quality of life issues like aggressive panhandling, public urination and defecation, large piles of trash, open drug sales and use, and felony assaults.
Panhandling problems often increase in our shopping centers where people who are carrying money might be more approachable. Transients also aggressively panhandle near automatic teller machines (ATMs) and at business entrances. Sometimes they even block people from getting in back in their cars after shopping, bothering them while they put groceries in their car, or while filling their car with gas —and some transients refuse stop asking for money until people give in.
People often tell me that homeless and transient people have a right to ask for money, but I don’t think people should be approached as they walk away from an ATM, or blocked from getting into their vehicle. Transients often use fear to force people to give them a handout, and people should never have to give out of fear.
That’s the definition of a robbery—the taking of property by force or fear. People shouldn’t be robbed while shopping or withdrawing money from their bank accounts at an ATM.
Here in Ukiah, it would help if people called the police when they observed illegal activity and did not give transients handouts.
When I talk about transients, I am not referring to people who are clean and sober but have temporarily found themselves homeless as a result of a tough economy or some bad choices. Transients are those who choose not to seek services provided by homeless shelters and food pantries, often because these places require recipients to be sober and non-violent.
I understand why kind-hearted people give to those who are less fortunate than themselves, and I applaud that. But if you really want to help our community, many wonderful non-profit organizations could put your dollars to good use helping people who are working hard to get back on their feet.
What’s the best way to handle the transient situation?
First, say NO – stop providing handouts. Giving money to transients does not help our community, and it puts you in direct contact with people who may be dangerous. Transients use money to buy alcohol, methamphetamine, or other drugs. The use of alcohol and drugs often leads to violence. If transients can’t afford alcohol and drugs, our community would be safer.
Instead, give your donations to the agencies providing direct services to the homeless. This will assure that your dollars are spent on assistance, not alcohol and drugs. In Ukiah, these key services include hot meals at Plowshares, 1346 S. State St., groceries at UCC Food Bank, 888 N. State St., and essential services at Ford Street Project, 139 Ford St.
Second, if you observe illegal activity, please report it to UPD as soon as possible. The Ukiah City Council adopted an ordinance to restrict panhandling, and by reporting this activity—and even making a citizen’s arrest—you help UPD significantly reduce these types of crimes.
This panhandling ordinance, UCC 6091, establishes that a person cannot aggressively panhandle in any public place, or panhandle in any fashion within 20 feet of the entrance or exit of a retail store, supermarket, or ATM. People are also prohibited from approaching motor vehicles to panhandle on a street, highway, parking lot, or freeway on-ramp or off-ramp.
Each offense for panhandling is a misdemeanor, but to write a citation a police officer must either see the activity first-hand or be assisted by a citizen making a citizen’s arrest. By calling and reporting illegal activity, you can help us stop this type of illegal behavior—you can really make a difference.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have suggestions on how we can improve please feel free to call me. If you would like to know more about crime in your neighborhood, you can sign up for telephone, cell phone and email notifications by clicking the Nixle button on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.
By: Chris Dewey – Chief of Police