Over 50 people showed up at the Sheriff's meeting last night - quite a turnout for a weeknight meeting with short notice. People were expecting to hear pretty much what has been the standard pitch from the Deputies for some time: be careful, be safe, if you see something call the non-emergency number. That is indeed what they heard, but they heard it said with a different approach. The Deputies said, in essence, "we get it, you care, and so do we." That earned them consistent applause from the audience. In addition, both Sheriff Cooper and Supervisor Desmond were in attendance. Their presentations and responses to audience questions made it pretty clear they were listening and are doing things differently now. None of the elves here in our newsroom could recall a past Sheriff's meeting when both (or either) Supervisor Susan Peters and Sheriff Scott Jones spoke to the people, especially in ways that indicated sincere concern for anything brought up by the public.
That was great. For a change, it sounded like they almost care.An attendee's summary of the meeting
Homelessness was clearly issue #1 for last night's audience and the presentations did not disappoint. The Deputies spoke on the theme of "a new Sheriff in town". The POP (Problem-Oriented Policing) officer led off with a pitch to let his team know about any weird behavior confounding a neighborhood - like when a grandson moves into what was once granny's house and turns it into a druggie handout. The HOT officer then explained that resource referrals were always offered, but noted that crime was no longer being tolerated in homeless camps. He said the HOT staff had been expanded from 1 officer for the whole county to 8. He added that they have been seeing progress at getting homeless people to access services and shelter. The Assistant DA who was there said that most of the people who turn down shelter either had substance abuse issues or mental health problems or both. The Deputies also said their efforts were coordinated with other units like Probation and Code Enforcement towards a goal of better quality of life in the community.
When Sheriff Cooper spoke to the group. He said, "The status quo is unacceptable. Being homeless is not a crime. If people need help we are here for you, but if you don't want help we may have a problem." He referred to fentanyl, meth, and mental illness as serious matters that have to be addressed. He got a lot of applause.
Supervisor Desmond was also applauded. He told the audience that the County has turned over a new leaf. Instead of throwing money at homelessness with no apparent improvements, the County has moved to establish permanent supportive housing at the old Arden Star motel on Howe Avenue and has opend a Safe Stay tiny homes complex in the Florin area of South County. He said he is looking forward to opening the new Safe Stay complex on Watt north of the freeway. People asked questions about the problems caused as a result of the Auburn Blvd. shelter; he said the County has resolved to seek detachment of the uninhabited Del Paso Park area and is hoping that the Auburn Blvd. site can be repurposed to seve a less intrusive clientele such as women and children. An audience member asked about the "Steiny Homes" proposed for Cal Expo. Supervisor Desmond said he was concerned it could turn out like Auburn Blvd. on steroids and would quash efforts to make Cal Expo a destination/economic engine for the region. He said he would try to let people know when the Cal Expo Board would take up the item. When asked how the public could help, the Supervisor, the Assistant DA and the officers said people really need to show up at meetings where these kinds of things are decided.
One piece of the picture that was missing, though, was the CHP, which is responsible for traffic enforcement in the unincorporated areas of the state. It is well-known that they don't have adequate resources to do the job, as they are spread thinly across the state and have a whole bunch of higher priorities than local traffic laws. That's a serious problem, given the CHP's budget and staffing challenges. So maybe the CHP did not send an officer because they just did not have staff available. Hopefully that will not be a problem in the future.
Handouts from the meeting are shown below.