Merchants in downtown Santa Barbara on Thursday heard police officials share what they’re doing to address panhandling, homelessness and other hot-button issues that pop up throughout the State Street corridor.
The Downtown Organization hosted a town hall meeting at the Santa Barbara Library, andthree of four beat coordinators of the department’s recently revived program were present, including Officer Kasi Beutel.
State Street sits squarely within Beutel’s beat, and she has been working to crack down on everything from unruly dogs to skateboarding on streets and sidewalks. Skateboarding is prohibited on State Street from Sola Street to the beach, and violations carry a hefty $155 fine, which Beutel has been handing out assiduously.
Officer Keld Hove was also on hand, and spoke about the work he’s been doing with Santa Barbara’s homeless. Hove spearheads the Restorative Policing program, and is an amalgam of police officer, social worker and cheerleader for those looking to move off the streets.
Hove said that while Santa Barbara is a draw for the homeless because of weather and services, he’s heard people in multiple cities across the state say the homeless are drawn to their locales, too.
“It’s a common belief, and I believe these individuals are drifters,” he said.
A Restorative Court program was started a year ago to deal with the constant stream of homeless offenders, usually the same dozen or so people, who come in with minor offenses such as open alcohol container and urinating in public.
The restorative court dismisses those charges if the person doesn’t reoffend for six months.
“When you have someone who cannot change their behavior, it doesn’t matter how much the stick starts whacking them,” he said. “They need a carrot.”
Since the start of the program, they’ve seen 107 people, including 27 deemed vulnerable by the Common Ground vulnerability index. Hove said that 22 people chose to clean up and reunited with family, 50 were placed in programs such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and 14 were housed.
Twenty-six opted out of the program and chose to go back to the streets, but Hove said the placements they were able to make have taken a tremendous burden off the court system.
Sgt. Ed Olsen also spoke, and said that the beat coordinators, including Beutel, are “experts of the neighborhood.”
“If you have a problem that is occurring, call 911,” he said. “If there’s a chronic problem call your beat coordinator.”
Questions were also taken, and several concerns were expressed from Lower State Street hotel employees who say they’ve had to endure more than their fair share of noise from neighboring bars. Olsen said that the department’s Nightlife Enforcement Team continues to work to crack down on offenders in the Lower State area. One woman asked why there are only two officers who work that beat now, as opposed to the four there used to be.
Olsen said that two officers were being funded with a grant that expired, so now two remain. Those positions could be staff, but resources would be pulled away from efforts such as those of the beat coordinators.
“We have to look at where we’re getting the most bang for our buck,” he said.