Three Oklahoma City police officers make up the department's new homeless outreach team, reports The Oklahoman. The goal is to connect Oklahoma City's homeless population with housing and other services in the hopes of getting them off the street. It’s a new way of addressing the city's homeless problem, said team member Lt. Bobby Thompkins. In the past, officers routinely arrested homeless people for minor violations. Those people were fined for those violations and, when they failed to pay the fine, they ended up in jail.
“It was just kind of a vicious cycle of costing taxpayers money,” he said. The department launched the team last month as a pilot program. The three officers visit homeless camps and speak with the people there. Officers explain that they aren't there to arrest people at the camps for minor violations or check for active warrants. They offer to take them to homeless shelters or help them get other services. People are reluctant to speak with officers or accept help at first, Thompkins said. Many of them don't trust police, or they don't want to change the way they live. It can often take as many as 50 visits before officers convince a person to accept help.