Ukiah’s Revised Camping and Panhandling Ordinances
A couple weeks ago, I asked Ukiah City Council members to consider updating Ukiah’s camping ordinance. Changes were needed because the Federal Ninth Circuit Court (which is responsible for guiding how laws and local ordinances are enforced in California) ruled that a Los Angeles city ordinance prohibiting living in a car was unconstitutionally vague—and our city code was worded very similarly.
To make sure we comply with the recent court ruling, we asked that our ordinance be changed.
We also asked our City Council members to consider changing the penalties for first offenses of camping and panhandling from infractions to misdemeanor violations.
When the penalties for camping and panhandling were first adopted ten years ago, both ordinances contained a progressive penalty system: the first offense was an infraction and the second offense was a misdemeanor.
What we’ve found during the last ten years is that tracking first and second offenses hasn’t worked very well. Infraction tickets often haven’t been filed or they were dismissed from court, so tracking them became problematic. Changing first offenses to misdemeanors corrects this problem, dissuading people from the unwanted illegal behavior, which is harming our creeks and streams, without a cumbersome paper trail.
During the City Council meeting, many people shared strong opinions about these changes.
Some people expressed concern about damage to our community’s creeks and streams, and how illegal camping harms our environment.
Others expressed concern regarding the fair and impartial treatment of the homeless, and raised concerns about how these ordinances would be enforced.
Still others expressed concern for the lack of shelter services within Ukiah and how action was needed to provide shelter and bathroom facilities.
Finally, some expressed concern about the rise in crime in Ukiah (increased violence, aggressive panhandling, vandalism, trespassing and theft) and how “travelers and transients” were impacting our community.
Everyone who spoke did so with passion, encouraging the City Council to do more to find solutions to both the rise in crime and the need for essential homeless services in Ukiah.
The City Council voted to adopt the changes we recommended, and asked that more discussion about the clean-up of homeless encampments and shelter services take place at tonight’s City Council meeting (on October 1).
As you can imagine, stopping the serious crimes by travelers or transients who come to Ukiah, while finding ways to provide sustainable shelter and services to assist community members who are homeless, has been very difficult.
We all want to find ways to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves, but I know that our community’s patience for the increased crime has been exhausted; especially when it comes to quality of life crimes committed by transients—like aggressive panhandling, dog attacks, drunk in public, shoplifting, and being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
These crimes really are impacting our community and the quality of life we should expect here in Ukiah.
On a typical day in August, our department had three officers on duty (one supervisor and two officers) and they were asked to respond to more than 95 calls for police service a day; they started 403 criminal investigations (more than 13.5 crimes per day) and arrested 183 people (an average of 6 per day). Sadly, a large percentage of this criminal activity was related to these quality of life concerns that involve the transient population.
While we still have a long way to go to find solutions to homelessness and criminal behavior, there is one thing I know can help: stop giving handouts to these transients. Handouts pay for drugs and alcohol. If you really want to help, donate to our wonderful passionate non-profit organizations that work hard every day to get people back on their feet.
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.