The Los Angeles Police Department cannot arrest people for sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks on skid row, saying such enforcement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because there are not enough shelter beds for the city’s homeless population, says a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruling reported by the Los Angeles Times. The decision effectively kills Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton’s original blueprint for cleaning up skid row by removing homeless encampments that rise each evening throughout the 50-block downtown district. That plan has been on hold for three years, and city leaders have backed a less aggressive policy.
The ruling has implications for police agencies around the nation that have grappled with how to deal with the homeless. Although Los Angeles’ policy was considered one of the most restrictive, other communities have tried milder variations of the same approach. Las Vegas and Portland, Or., for example, bar sleeping or standing on a sidewalk or other public space only if it obstructs pedestrians or cars, and Seattle, Tucson, and Houston limit the hours of enforcement. City officials said the ruling makes it likely that the LAPD will move forward with a more moderate skid row policing plan, one that would crack down on crime while allowing cardboard cities. The 2-1 appeals court decision may be appealed.