Are downtown homeless in danger?
A wave of violent attacks and other crimes in the central city has Sacramento City Hall trying to calm jittery downtown business owners, tourism officials and residents.
Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown and midtown, sent a letter to the city manager and city attorney Tuesday asking for more police officers in the central city and more attorneys to prosecute misdemeanor crimes. He also organized an emergency meeting with key downtown and midtown business leaders on Monday to discuss the issue.
Hansen’s request for more law enforcement resources came after two violent attacks involving homeless men over the weekend. In one, a homeless man was shot at 10:50 a.m. on Saturday on the sidewalk outside Rodney’s Cigar and Liquor Store at 10th and J streets. The Citizen Hotel and upscale Grange restaurant are across the street from Rodney’s.
About three hours later, another homeless man was found stabbed to death near 13th and S streets – a block from the burgeoning R Street arts district.
Hansen said these incidents are part of a “concerning rash of violent and aggressive behavior” in city parks, on central city streets and along the American River Parkway.
“In recent months, there has been an increase in reports of crime in and around the Central City that involve assault, theft, trespassing, vandalism, and indecent acts,” he wrote.
“While our City has dedicated substantial resources to bring long-term solutions to our City’s homelessness crisis and to address the serious mental health issues confronted on our streets, we must quickly assure the public that these problems are being addressed head-on by our City leadership with immediate steps to stabilize the situation and mitigate the impacts,” Hansen continued.
Speaking to reporters at City Hall on Monday, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he will maintain his support of “a systemic fix to homelessness” that involves services and housing. But he added he wanted to encourage police officers to be more aggressive when they encounter “disruptive behavior.”
“I am supportive of city police officers enforcing a standard of decorum,” the mayor said. He said that does not mean that officers should aggressively enforce the city’s anti-camping ordinance, but focus more on crimes such as “people selling drugs on the street.”
Over the past six months, downtown business owners and convention-goers have reported a significant increase in the homeless population in the area.
Mike Testa, who takes over as president and CEO of the Visit Sacramento tourism board later this week, said a convention organizer recently told him there was a noticeable increase in the number of transients downtown since three years ago.
“Perception is such an important thing in our business,” Testa said. “And it hasn’t been an issue (before) the way it is now.”
Michael Ault, head of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership business group, said the city and private sector have invested too much time and money into downtown Sacramento in recent years “for this trend to continue.”
“What’s taken place over the last several months – the uptick in aggressive behavior – has been an absolute turn of events,” Ault said. “Now is not the time for us to back off in managing the environment down here. We can’t tolerate this behavior.”
Downtown isn’t the only part of the city combating high-profile crime.
Councilman Jay Schenirer called a press conference Tuesday to urge more investment in Oak Park, where a pregnant woman was shot over the weekend. The woman delivered her baby and both are expected to survive. Two men have been shot and killed in the neighborhood since May.
While the police department said violent crime is down in Oak Park, Schenirer said the neighborhood is experiencing a “wave of violence” and that the city needs to do more to invest in youth programs and other crime prevention services. The city has already spent millions on programs for young people, new soccer fields and parks improvements in the neighborhood.
“None of that will be successful if people don’t feel safe in their homes or in their community,” Schenirer said.