Monday, May 30 , 2016, 5:24 am | Overcast 58º

Police Chief Briefs Santa Barbara Council on Aggressive Panhandling by ‘Urban Travelers’

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez updated the City Council on Tuesday with some general crime statistics in the city, but while crime in general has been going down citywide, downtown areas have seen an increase in incidents involving what he termed "urban travelers" — young adults from outside the area aggressively panhandling on State Street.

Though the city has police officers specifically working to get mentally ill and elderly homeless people into housing, Sanchez said his department has been having problems with a different group altogether.

They can be found predominantly in the 600 block of State Street and are usually young people, ranging in age from 17 to early 30s, sometimes with dogs, and business owners in the area have shared frustration about the group making aggressive comments toward customers and "strong-arming for money," Sanchez said.

"This is unacceptable," he said, adding that police have begun to respond to the complaints.

Between March 10 and 16, police issued 151 citations, eight felony arrests and 13 misdemeanor arrests in the 600 block alone to urban travelers, Sanchez said.

The chief gave a profile of the group, saying that more than 90 percent are not from California.

Sanchez recalled going out with an enforcement team at 5 a.m. and visiting five camps where the young people spend the night, most of them located near highway on- and off-ramps.

The young people in the encampments "were the same group we had talked to all week long at the 600 block of State Street," he said.

Police are beginning to work with the city's Public Works personnel to clean up some of the encampments, which Sanchez called "extremely filthy," strewn with used needles and other items that pose a public safety risk. 

People living in the encampments are given 72 hours before police move in for cleanup, Sanchez said.

When they're on State Street, "people have every right to sit on our benches and walk on our streets," he said, adding that they cross a line when they begin to infringe on the rights of others. He said panhandling aggressively or smoking in front of a business won't be tolerated.

"This is everyone's issue," Sanchz said, "and we need to stay on top of it."

He also spent time on other statistics, saying that part one crimes, including assault and battery, have decreased citywide. He said that's because of community involvement and that good police work "has led us to many arrests" earlier in the year.

Residential burglaries in the city are up, however, he said, urging residents to take care to lock up their homes as well as vehicles. Open doors, open windows and garage doors are the main contributors to daytime residential burglaries, he said.

"Very few of these burglaries are kicking the windows in or the doors down," Sanchez said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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