A unanimous Anaheim City Council has approved $400,000 partly to ramp up visible, private security and park rangers at city parks where large numbers of homeless people are known to visit.
“Private security observes, reports and serves as a visual presence for the reassurance of everyone in our parks. They make people aware of park rules and ask for their cooperation with them,” said Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster in an email. “Park rangers also will make people aware of park rules and ask for their cooperation … Park rangers are not armed and would not take witness statements.”
Lyster said private security, code enforcement officers and park rangers can call for police assistance during “more serious incidents, or when there is an issue with someone not complying with park rules after being made aware of them.”
The actions come after Anaheim was criticized Aug. 3 by U.S. District Judge David Carter who called city parks “a complete mess” but a lack of shelters means homeless people have nowhere else to go.
That afternoon Voice of OC reporter Spencer Custodio was confronted by Anaheim Police Sgt. Michael R. Lozeau at Maxwell Park when the reporter took pictures of the sergeant as he detained a homeless man and two other people.
Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr. said Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros told him the interaction between Custodio and Lozeau had been reviewed and Cisneros apologized “for the impact on your work” while declining to be in any way specific about the officer’s actions.
Anaheim has declined to release voice recordings of the encounter.
Journalists and the public have a right to photograph police officers in public doing their jobs under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Lyster said after the council meeting a large share of the $400,000 approved by the City Council Sept. 25, will go to increasing the hours of the city’s 30 part-time park rangers, code enforcement officers and private security from city-contracted Lyons Security Services.
Some of the money will also go toward adding more beds at existing homeless shelters and paying for additional homeless outreach services from the city-contracted nonprofit City Net. It’s unclear how the money will be distributed among the different goals outlined in the staff report.
Councilman Jose Moreno, during discussion, called the Sept. 25 action “interim steps” until the promise of a 200-bed homeless shelter made in federal court Sept. 7 is fulfilled. He cited concern that some residents might feel unsafe at parks where homeless people are also present.
Although Moreno said the steps will “restore the dignity and integrity of the parks” and would “reduce criminal activity,” Lyster said the money will not go to increase the police presence at the parks.
Carter, who is overseeing federal lawsuits against the county by homeless people, has said “the law of the land” is a recent federal appeals court ruling that found it unconstitutional to prosecute homeless people for sleeping on public property when no realistic shelter option is available.
That unanimous ruling, Martin v. City of Boise by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, states: “We hold only that ‘so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in [a jurisdiction] than the number of available beds [in shelters],’ the jurisdiction cannot prosecute homeless individuals for ‘involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public.’ ”
It adds: “As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
However, police can still issue citations and make arrests in the parks for illegal paraphernalia and activities or lack of identification. Lyster said police will continue to enforce the park closing time at 10:30 p.m.
Between July 2017 and July 2018, a combined 80 charges were filed for code violations at Anaheim’s Maxwell and Twila Reid parks, according to an Aug. 14 report by the Anaheim Police Department. It’s unclear how many of those charged were homeless people; though both parks are considered homeless hotspots in the city and were the top two sites for the most incidents.
Lyons Security Services logged 3,148 incidents in the parks, such as after-hours trespassing and unattended property, between January and July. The report doesn’t specify whether or not the incidents resulted in citations or tickets. Maxwell and Twila Reid parks were again the top two sites for the most incidents.
An Aug. 2 status update in the Orange County Catholic Worker case, filed by homeless attorneys Brooke Weitzman and Carol Sobel, complained that Anaheim and other cities were aggressively using laws to cite people and coerce them into leaving public places and were going to parks to search anyone appearing to be homeless.
Homeless people told Voice of OC in August that Anaheim police officers were showing up at least once a day at Maxwell Park to talk to people who had multiple items with them.
Lyster said Carter has indicated the steps taken Sept. 25 would not be an issue amid the pending lawsuit.
“Carter, in general, is aware of this,” Lyster said. “He’s basically aware that we need to take steps to address issues in the parks, as long as we’re doing it within the framework of that agreement (to create more shelter sites).”
Anaheim plans to open the 200-bed shelter by December, in an industrial area between the city’s downtown and Angel Stadium. The shelter would be run by the Salvation Army in temporary structures next to the Adult Rehabilitation Center at 1300 S. Lewis Street.
In a separate vote, the city council unanimously approved a $90,000 contract renewal with City Net, which is relocating its headquarters from Long Beach to Anaheim. The renewed contract increases the number of days workers are doing outreach in the city from two days a week to five.
The nonprofit’s contract renewal didn’t come without a stern reminder by the Council of their desire for results.
“I’m all for increasing funding, but I need some assurance that the additional van out there on the road is gonna continue to address parks and public spaces,” said Councilman Stephen Faessel before the vote. “Give me some hope here that by these additional services, we’re gonna be able to allow our parks to go back to their communities.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.