Sheriff’s Deputies Doing A First Class Job Persuading The Homeless To Leave

With the arrival of summer nearing, lower downs in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department are complying with orders from higher ups to get aggressive with the county’s homeless population in an effort to induce them to leave for places elsewhere.
Around the county, the destitute tend to congregate and set up living quarters on sidewalks, in parks, alleyways, in the Mojave River, Santa Ana River or Lytle Creek riverbeds or around them, under railroad trestles or freeway overpasses, hidden in the spreads of chaparral that are a feature of much of the undeveloped land locally or within the landscaping along freeways or state highways.
Since late May, the sheriff’s department, which serves as the contract police department in Rancho Cucamonga, has vectored its deputies, working in conjunction with the California Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans, to remove homeless individuals subsisting in encampments. Over the past several weeks, the department received information regarding two such makeshift living arrangements located near the Interstate 15 Freeway’s intersection with Foothill Boulevard and Arrow Route.
In recent years, the sheriff’s department has refined its methodology for dealing with the homeless, having developed a formula that obscures within a velvet glove the iron fist being used to squeeze the dispossessed. To ward off criticism of the harsh treatment accorded the unprivileged, the department adheres to a public relations program which masks the department’s action and its actual intent. Part of this is the nomenclature used by the department in describing what it is doing. Since 2021, the department has used at least three separate descriptions of the effort. One is Project HOPE, with HOPE being an acronym for Homeless Outreach Proactive Enforcement. Another is Operation Inroads. More recently, the department talks about employing its SOP team, with SOP being another acronym standing for solution-oriented policing.
Under the guise of “helping” the homeless, law enforcement officers assigned to Project HOPE, Operation Inroads or the SOP team arrive at homeless encampments and shanty towns, where they insist that layers of cardboard used as insulation from the ground as well as blankets, bedding, sleeping bags and tents which those who are destitute use to make it through the night are declared, in their words, “debris,” and discarded.
In certain cases, the homeless are told that some form of assistance or shelter is available to them. These offers of help occasionally succeed in having the targeted population willingly or of their own accord allow their possessions to be discarded. Occasionally, the deputies will follow up with delivering the homeless to an actual shelter or homeless assistance facility where they can make an application for inclusion in some type of program aimed at assistance. More often these are empty assurances that have no meaning but are useful in getting the homeless to cooperate in giving up their belongings.
In those circumstances where the target population proves uncooperative and is unwilling to part with bedding, tents or cooking/eating utensils, cookware and the like, the deputies will engage in a heavy-handed showing of force in which they will set hands upon the homeless, rough them up or beat them, ultimately seizing their property, which is then thrown away.
The ground is an excellent conductor of heat. As such, those who must sleep on it without a layer or two or three of cardboard, blankets or sleeping bags can be very cold and very uncomfortable at night. Being subjected to such sleeping arrangements can go a good way toward convincing the homeless to move on to some other location.
At least since the tenure of John McMahon, who became sheriff in 2013 and remained in that post through two election cycles in 2014 and 2018 until voluntarily resigning upon maxing out his pension in 2021, the department has made a practice of assigning generally young and physically fit deputies to its Project HOPE, Operation Inroads and SOP teams, ones who engage in body building practices involving the use of anabolic steroids. The reason for this is three-fold. The overt physicality of the deputies serves as an intimidation factor which heightens their command presence and in most cases results in compliance with their demands. The second reason is that one of the side-effects of anabolic steroid use is “roid rage,” which is a state of irritability that accompanies the prolonged use of steroids and will manifest in an outburst of anger, aggression, or violence on the part of the user if he encounters a challenge or any difficult situation. In this way, a homeless individual’s refusal to depart with, for example, his sleeping bag or blanket or tent, might trigger an act of aggression on the part of the deputy that is then normally resolved with the homeless person being convinced or forced to part with his or her possessions or, as the department terms it, “debris.” The third reason is that by utilizing young deputies who utilize anabolic steroids for assignments in which they deal with the homeless as opposed to more economically and socially well-adapted individuals, the department can minimize the liability risk that can arise from the aggression of those deputies and the excessive force they are prone to using, given that the homeless generally do not possess the wherewithal to retain, hire or obtain an attorney to make a legal issue over their treatment by a member of the department.
San Bernardino County’s current sheriff, Shannon Dicus, appears to be every bit as indulgent of the more sadistic element of his department’s deputies who have been given license to persuade those who are living on the streets, beneath railroad trestles, in the nooks and crannies of freeway overpasses, beneath bridges and along the banks of the Mojave and Santa Ana rivers or Lytle Creek to simply move along.
In San Bernardino County, the cities of Barstow, Chino, Colton, Fontana, Montclair, Ontario, Redlands, Rialto, San Bernardino and Upland have their own municipal police departments. The cities of Adelanto, Big Bear Lake, Chino Hills, Grand Terrace, Hesperia, Highland, Loma Linda, Needles, Rancho Cucamonga Twentynine Palms, Victorville and Yuciapa as well as the incorporated towns of Apple Valley and Yucca Valley contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement services.
Homelessness in San Bernardino County has presented a challenge for some time, one that has seemed to consistently worsen. For that reason, many found encouraging that in the annual so-called point-in-time tally of the homeless conducted by the San Bernardino County Homeless Partnership, the San Bernardino County Office of Homeless Services, and the Institute for Urban Initiatives and approximately 550 community volunteers on January 24 at the behest of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there was only a marginal increase over the number counted in the January 26, 2023 point-in-time survey. This year, the 4,237 adults and children who were counted as homeless during the 24-hour long survey were 43 more than the 4,194 people counted in January 2023, an increase of 1.02527 percent. Compared to increases in the homeless detected throughout San Bernardino County in all 24 of its municipalities and 57 of its unincorporated communities in previous counts, this was encouraging for both those who want to help the homeless and those who want them to leave and never come back.
In 2022, the point-in-time count found 3,333 total homeless in the county. Thus, the number of homeless in 2023 represented an increase of 862 or 25.9 percent.
To the extent that the change can be attributed to the sheriff’s department’s aggressive tactics, many county citizens are supportive.
An owner of a large commercial center in the county told the Sentinel that dealing with the homeless is the bane of his existence. He said he supported the sheriff’s department and all other law enforcement agencies in the county in their efforts to drive them away.
“Bleeding heart tactics don’t work with those type of people,” he said. “You have to be firm and by firm, I mean ruthless, or the problem will never go away.”
Early this month, the sheriff’s department in Rancho Cucamonga, which functions as the Rancho Cucamonga Police Department, assigned members of its S.O.P. team to work in conjunction with Caltrans District 8 personnel to eradicate the homeless encampments near Foothill Boulevard and Arrow Route where they pass under the 15 Freeway. Caltrans personnel supplied trucks, a small Bobcat tractor, and dumpsters that were used in the effort. With the deputies there to stand off the denizens of the homeless camps, the Caltrans personnel, sometimes with the deputies pitching in, put the debris from the encampments into the dumpsters, after which it was hauled off.
The fewer than two dozen residents of the underpasses were powerless to prevent what was occurring. That did not mean they were pleased by what had occurred.
“How would you like it if they took a bulldozer to where you lived?” one of them asked.
Mark Gutglueck

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