The Healdsburg Police Department met with local business and community members on Dec. 10 to field questions and discuss their work. Homelessness, traffic violations and youth issues with social media, were among the top concerns voiced by locals during the Q&A session.
Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke, Detective Craig Smith, Lt. Matt Jenkins, Sgt. John Haviland, Sgt. Luis Rodriguez and therapy dog Leo gathered at the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce office for the “Lunch with Healdsburg Police” event, an activity that is organized by the chamber for the local business community.
While Leo received a lot of attention — he is the first K9 to grace the Healdsburg Police Department in awhile after their traditional police dog program was deferred, the biggest topic of discussion was homelessness.
Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce CEO Tallia Hart said she gets a lot of calls from businesses who are worried about homeless folks distracting or scaring away customers.
“From the business community perspective there are a lot of questions on the homeless issue and what is happening with that and where we can be helpful in that situation,” Hart said. “I personally get a lot of calls from businesses and they feel that it is a distraction to some of their customers coming into the area.”
Homelessness is one of the community’s top concerns, according to Burke. In fact, a significant percentage of the department’s calls have to do with concerns about the homeless population.
“The law enforcement role in the homeless issue has traditionally been one about displacement. People will call because they do not like them here (and they want them moved). Those can be the most difficult to deal with, particularly because the law has changed significantly as it relates to what we can actually do,” Burke explained.
He continued, “It is not something we can solve. It is kind of like mental health issues that we deal with, we have a certain amount of training and legal ability to deal with those and we are not going to solve that problem by ourselves, but do we have a role, yes.”
He said the department’s role in Healdsburg has been to “walk a fine line” in dealing with the homeless since there are various stances on the homeless community — some want them moved as far away as possible, and others advocate that they are a part of the community.
Burke said the most common citations given to the homeless population are offenses that anyone can be charged with, like smoking in the Plaza or removing trash from someone’s private trash bin on the curb.
“We recognize that there are passionate opinions on both sides of the issue,” said Burke. “But, you also have to recognize that one of the reasons why the homeless community is here is because it is very lucrative for them to be in the city of Healdsburg,” Burke said.
He said in the end, the department’s ability to move a homeless person from one spot to another is significantly reduced under a decision out of the state of Idaho, which is now on the appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
The case, Martin V. City of Boise, occurred in 2009 when Robert Martin and five other homeless persons challenged the city’s ability to fine them for violating an anti-camping ordinance. According to an April 2019 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, cities cannot punish or arrest people for sleeping on public property unless they provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.
Burke said most often a liason from the Reach for Home organization will go out to mediate with a homeless person.
A business owner in the audience turned the conversation towards traffic violations and asked what could be done about an excessive amount of U-turns that people make on Healdsburg Avenue near Costeaux Bakery.
He said on a busy day during the holiday season he can spot dozens of cars making U-turns in the road in order to get a parking spot on the street.
He expressed concern that it may cause a collision.
Burke said he understands the frustration; however, there is only so much the department can do to keep an eye on it, since the department only has one traffic enforcement officer.
Jenkins said they could put up signs, but frankly, people do not follow them.
The officers suggested talking the the city public works engineer on discussing what options could be pursued to dissuade drivers from making U-turns and three point turns on Healdsburg Avenue.
Burke said the department is working on getting a new patrol car that will be painted to be marked not as clearly as a police car and he added that hopefully that will help in catching traffic violations.
Youth in social media
A lot of the business owners in the room were also parents and they expressed concern about what to do about social media safety and literacy for their children.
Smith said, in talking with the junior and high school principals, it’s clear that a lot of the trouble with social media revolves around sexuality and bullying.
He said sometimes, boys as young as 12 will ask girls to send nude photos to them and the photo ends up being sent to other people or the person who sends the photo will be blackmailed.
Smith said if he had his way he wouldn’t let kids have social media until they are adults, however, the more moderate approach would be to monitor children’s social media use.
He said he is also discussing the possibility of creating some sort of social media literacy curriculum with local schools.
Other common calls
Other call the department spends significant time responding to are vehicle thefts and gang activity, although officers noted that the activity has been minimal and mostly related to graffiti.
Smith noted that package theft from front porches has also decreased.
“The advent of the Ring doorbell has helped a lot,” he said.