Leave it up to Councilman Steve Hansen and Sacramento’s central city has become a hotbed of criminal activity – assaults, theft, trespassing, harassment, vandalism, and lately, murder.
It’s not downtown Stockton or downtown Oakland, where the blare of police sirens can be heard into the wee hours of the morning. But most days Hansen says he gets at least one email or one phone call from a constituent who has had a disconcerting run-in with a homeless person.
The couple who came home to find a homeless man masturbating on their porch. The residents who catch homeless people relieving themselves in their backyards or drunkenly bursting into their homes.
Hansen tells the story of three women who, while walking from their cars after work, were followed and then chased by a screaming homeless man. They jumped into an elevator in a parking garage and he did, too. Then they ran toward another building and he did, too. They were only able to keep him at bay by holding the glass doors shut until police arrived.
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And then there’s the homeless man who shot another homeless man on a Saturday morning outside Rodney’s Cigar and Liquor Store, just across the street from the upscale Grange restaurant, where presumably people were having brunch.
About three hours later, another homeless man fatally stabbed yet another homeless man near 13th and S streets. Police eventually arrested Michael Lee Langley, 56, on suspicion of murder. Officers found him wandering along K Street.
Homicides are exceedingly rare in central Sacramento. In 2015, there were just five murders in Hansen’s council district. In 2016, there were six. Residents are far more likely to get their bikes stolen or their lawn furniture pilfered then get killed.
But still, this isn’t a narrative that Sacramento should let fester.
The fastest way to kill the city’s downtown resurgence is to allow residents and visitors to feel unsafe. It happened before, prompting people to flee to the suburbs, and it can happen again. What a waste of hard work and hundreds of millions of dollars of investments that would be.
So Hansen was right to call on police to step up enforcement in the central city. And Mayor Darrell Steinberg, although understandably adamant about officers not using the city’s anti-camping ordinance just to move homeless people around the city, was right to make clear that police must be more assertive when they encounter “disruptive” behavior.
“I am supportive of city police officers enforcing a standard of decorum,” Steinberg said last week.
There’s a fine line between cops harassing the many homeless people who are minding their business and cops turning a blind eye to the few homeless people who are harassing others. Police must do a better job of walking it.
But no one should lose sight of the fact that Sacramento can’t arrest its way out of its growing epidemic of homelessness.
That homeless people, many of them with untreated mental illness and addiction problems, are wandering around the central city committing crimes at all is a symptom of a much larger problem. And only the Sacramento County supervisors can truly solve it, by providing more resources to get people off the streets, and into housing and care.
For years, the supervisors and county staff have arrogantly abdicated this responsibility, refusing to work with the city and needlessly short-changing real efforts to reduce homelessness, the latest example being the Whole Person Care federal grant.
The result is what you see in the central city today. The people of Sacramento deserve better.