Starting this month, a beefed-up police force is arresting people who violate a daytime sidewalk sleeping ban on Los Angeles’ skid row, repors the Associated Press. Critics deride the ban as overzealous but police Chief William Bratton defends it. It’s the same kind of bust-small-crimes approach he used to control crime in New York City more than a decade ago. The ordinance is considered one of the most restrictive in the nation and has drawn fire from homeless advocates and their allies. “L.A. remains the only city in the U.S. whose answer to homelessness is to criminalize being poor,” said Mark Rosenbaum of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued to stop the city from enforcing the ordinance. “A program that relies on criminalization isn’t going to solve any of the social problems.”
More than 200 of the nation’s 250 largest cities have ordinances prohibiting sidewalk sleeping, sitting, and loitering, says the National Coalition for the Homeless. How much these ordinances are enforced varies. Acting executive director Michael Stoops said he’d never heard of a city’s enforcing a no camping ordinance during the day, but not at night. With 50 foot patrol officers deployed to skid row, Bratton’s Safer City Initiative attempts to improve an area he calls the worst open-air drug market in the country. By enforcing minor laws, police will erode a long-accepted feeling of lawlessness, he said. Police arrested about 600 people for drug selling in the initiative’s first week.