The debate over what to do about the homeless problem in downtown Los Angeles is complicated by the divergent views of two top law enforcement officials, says the Los Angeles Times. Sheriff Lee Baca has set up summits to strategize on how to better serve the homeless and mentally ill and has tried to establish a tent city near County Jail for homeless people who have been released. He doesn’t believe that arresting the homeless for minor violations is the best way to solve the problem. Police Chief William Bratton has adopted a tougher stance, saying he wants to root out “aberrant behavior” within the homeless population. He has conducted downtown sweeps looking for parole violators and vigorously enforces statutes prohibiting public urination and sleeping on public sidewalks. Long an advocate of the “broken windows” method of policing, which holds that punishing lesser offenses leads to reductions in major crimes, Bratton targeted downtown’s skid row as one of five proving grounds in the city for the theory.
The differing takes stem from the officials’ backgrounds and constituencies. Baca tends to deal with homeless people when they enter his jail system – and has often said fewer of them would be there if there were better services for the mentally disturbed and addicts. Bratton deals with homeless people on the street and must field the complaints from merchants and residents about crime and harassment – especially in increasingly gentrifying downtown. As top cop in New York and Boston, he helped clean up blighted communities that had large homeless populations. While the two men praise each other’s accomplishments, they also tend to cast blame for some of skid row’s problems in the opposite direction.