Police are too accommodating to homeless in the valley

Where did all these transients come from, I heard someone say as I went into City Market? I also had detected a much higher number of drifters in the area and there is hardly a major intersection that doesn’t have an outpost of sign waving vagabonds soliciting funds from passing motorists. These aren’t the little tramps from Charlie Chaplin movies or the lovable Freddy the Freeloader, these appear to be cut from different cloth. Some may be hard-working folk down on their luck, others however, are not and many are questioning why their numbers are increasing.

It seems that Grand Junction is just turning into a good place for them to stay. Not necessarily to work or anything, it’s really more of a Zen type of existence, where just the process of existence is enough. The city seems to be constructing a policy from the oft-misquoted movie, “Field of Dreams,” “if you build it, they will come” (actually, it is “he will come”). And come they will, hobos have always had an underground telegraph transmitting to their community the location of friendly places and targets of opportunity. Roger Miller put it succinctly in his song “King of the Road,” “And every handout in every town, and every lock that ain’t locked when no one’s around.”

This transition can perhaps be laid at the relationship the city has established between the police and the homeless. The city and the present police chief’s fascination with the transient community is remarkable, especially with recent reporting that the chief had reassigned school-resource-officer funding to a new unit, the Homeless Outreach Team or HOT for short.

According to a recent report, the HOT officers indicated they were trying to help people get in touch with services and were receiving phone calls about individuals needing supplies or wanting to get to an appointment. The HOT officers said they give out their cell phone numbers, so they can be accessible and people don’t just get their voicemail.

That’s nice, but it doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with law enforcement. Yes, it probably could be construed as crime prevention/community outreach/community policing or any number of buzzwords that come and go in police administrations and the numerous classes for those who want to be administrators so they can repeat them back to selection panels. Enough already.

Law enforcement is a self-defining term. Its mission is described by its name and if you want to gild the lily with a lot of blue-tinged management catchphrases and doublespeak, you run the risk of losing the main thing – enforce the law, fairly, efficiently and compassionately, but remember that it comes first, by a long shot.

This direction we seem to be heading is all too reminiscent of the sort of social-worker-as-police-officer issues of a few years ago that resulted in changes in management at City Hall and Sixth and Ute and a dip in the morale of officers who simply wanted to do their job as well as they could and not something else.

Some have spoken to me of the perception that interactions between street officers and transients are such that officers may be unsure of the backing they receive from administration. I hope this is not true. I also hear stories of aggressive stances being taken by individuals toward police officers during contacts and disrespect shown to these officers as a test of relative strength. I also hope this is not true, because we should not stand for our representatives, who are called upon to make face-to-face contact with dangerous individuals and situations to feel anything but 100 percent support from citizens for lawful actions taken on their behalf.

Let’s hope city administrators remember that.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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