Originally Posted by Texas Proud
Yes, there are bums on a lot of corners... and it is illegal...
Actually, panhandling and begging are not
against the law in Houston. Doing it after being asked to stop, doing it in
a roadway, or "aggressively panhandling" are illegal. Panhandling or begging within 8-feet of an ATM, fuel-dispensing device, parking meter, parking fee collection box or a transit facility, is also illegal. Anyone under 18 is prohibited from soliciting money while standing either in the road or from passing motorists while standing on the side of the road, but they can stand on the side of the road advertising their car washes, bakes sales and the like.
We didn't ban begging, just rude
begging. Perhaps this guy's attitude is preferred. I mean, look at the smile, and the wonderful cause he's asking us to support:
This is a bit of an oversimplification:
Originally Posted by Texas Proud
...but the police have found out that arresting them means you fill out paperwork and they are let out quickly...
The details get at the real heart of the matter of not only the bums on the corners problem, but also the problem of the mentally ill wandering the streets.
There are a number of laws and ordinances that are intended to keep the street corner people in check, but they are all misdemeanors that usually result in a citation rather than an arrest. And even when an arrest is warranted, they are mostly Class C misdemeanors, which means there is no jail time as punishment. A low fine and a liberal policy crediting time spent in jail toward the fines means they are all out well within 24 hours. Lastly, all the beggars know the law and are quite adept at walking right up to the edge without actually breaking the law, and/or, are not stupid enough to actually break the law when the police are around.*
The police department is, as it has been almost continually for the past three or four decades, woefully understaffed to meet the demands of responding to citizens calls for police service. About the only thing that would be a lower priority than begging might be a barking dog complaint. Which, historically, HPD never dispatched anybody to a complaint about a yappy pooch, unless it was to threaten to arrest the caller for tying up the phone line with his silly nonsense.
A lot of people will bitch about the bums, but maybe 1 in 100 will bother to call the police or contact their council member. Few will stick around to wait for the police, and those that do usually won't come to court as a witness because they're busy
. So, unless enough complaints come in to warrant diverting manpower away from in-progress serious misdemeanors and felonies; some cop is going to have to see
the violation, consider it egregious enough to warrant action, and not otherwise be on a call or other assignment.
All of this means that unless Bob the Bum is blocking traffic or harassing motorists, he can stand there all day with his sign without going to jail. He can walk out to collect his alms as long as he gets his stinky butt back on the curb as traffic starts to move. And since Bob can smell a Blue and White from a mile away, he's generally going to mind his manners when The Man is around. The second the coast is clear, Bob will go back to being obnoxious as bravery allows.
If enough complaints are received to call for an operation to deal with Bob and his buddies, the long-term result is they just wind up on another corner a few days later. Almost nobody ever calls up to say "thanks" for dealing with such things, but there will be 500 blog posts and letters to the editor of the Houston Chronicle asking, "Doesn't HPD have anything better
If, by some bizarre misalignment of the planets, Bob the Bum winds up in a courtroom in front of a jury of his peers facing a slightly more serious offense, he almost certainly will not be found guilty or receive a sentence of any consequence. "I feel sorry for him" is what the jurors will say. "He has such a horrible life, who are we to make it worse?" Little wonder, when most everyone lies and tries everything and anything to get out of jury duty because they don't want to "waste their time
." You wind up with juries made up of a few honest people who take their civic responsibility seriously, the people who weren't smart or energetic enough to get out of it, and a smattering of various oddballs. Have to love the oddballs. I've seen it in their eyes, they look around the courtroom and see Mark Furhman, O.J. Simpson, Johnny Cochran and Lance Ito - it's their shot to stick it to the man and fight the power.
There was a time, in the late 1970's and early 1980's, when this problem didn't exist anywhere in Houston except for around a few flophouse hotels downtown. Because the police put them in jail when they decided to camp out on the street, or run around begging for alms. The judges and juries supported the decision, the jails had room for them, and appropriate laws had been passed by the politicians and upheld by courts.
In the mid-80's there was political activism to support "the homeless", juror apathy set in, the budget sucked and the jail was too full of real criminals to house bums, the police department was brutal and had to be reigned in, and the politicians refused to counter court rulings by rewriting the laws on panhandling or soliciting in the street.
So, the average cop in Houston, seeing pissed off motorists fuming because Bob is holding up traffic while he collects a buck from some other motorist (who actually believed
the sign that Bob is holding), is going to have zero interest in even paying attention to the stinky beggar. There are limits of course, being disrespectful of lawful authority beyond a certain level is usually rewarded with all kinds of police attention, but most of the time Bob is going to have to really try
to get arrested.
Police officers, and their bosses, are quite capable of understanding the message society is sending them by where it uses its political will, where its citizens are willing to expend effort and where it spends its money.
Now, as to the case of the mentally ill who come to the attention of the police, it's a slightly different story: When their behavior disrupts society's peaceful repose, we immediately dispatch a highly trained mental health care professional with a PhD in psychology and years of experience in treating the mentally ill. He/She is accompanied by a team of healtchare professionals, a pharmacist ready with medication if needed, and a social worker to find the appropriate setting for the individual in his/her time of need. 24/7/365 these folks are standing by ready to be launched out into the dark to fix...er...no. No. No, that's not what we do.
Sorry, I confused reality with something that made sense. I'll try to keep that from happening again.
No, we send a couple of 26 year-olds with associates degrees and limited experience in dealing with the mentally ill, and almost no training in diagnosing or treating them. They look around and see no psychologist, pharmacist or social worker. What tools did we give them to fix the problem? A gun, a metal baton, a set of handcuffs and a cage in the backseat of their car. Are they specialists in dealing with sick individuals? No, but they have tons of experience in confronting violent, combative, intoxicated and uncooperative people, and just oodles of experience in applying physical force to those same people who say "NO!" to requests for cooperation and compliance. Cops are by training, nature and experience, perfectly suited for turning, "No
" into "
Yessss ow, ow, Okay, okay, I quit! Please stop! I said yes dammit! Yes!
Is it any wonder that hardly a year passes around here in which a mentally disturbed person doesn't die during a confrontation with the police?
Society is sending a message. It doesn't want the mentally ill in institutions, and prefers them out in the population where they all live happy productive lives while their illness is controlled by medication and therapy. Except that is not what always happens. They stop taking their medications, they can't afford them, they self-medicate with booze or drugs, etc.
Now, if the person's behavior rises to the level where they are demonstrably a danger to themselves or another, then they can be involuntarily committed to a mental health care facility. If
you can convince a magistrate with your articulation of the facts. And if
there is space available. Then of course the hold is only for 24-hours at the most, and 90% of the time they are released back into the same environment from which they failed.
And the people who are having less serious problems, are homeless, or are in situations that are not healthy? Well, the cops all have a nice list of names and phone numbers of shelters intended to help those folks. Except, they're already full and refuse to take any newcomers, "maybe next month" is the best you get. Unless a caring family member will take the person in, the only other alternative is to arrest them for one of the offenses designed to keep Bob the Bum at bay. But you help with one hand by getting them off the street and simultaneously hurt them by putting them into the giant uncaring criminal justice system. If there was some real help available to them in jail that might make it worth it, but that is so seldom the case. So, they get told "stay off the street" and are left to do their thing until the police get called again. It follows the philosophy of, "if you can't make it better, be damn sure you don't do something that makes it worse."
So, society sends the wrong people out to do the job and equips and trains them for near certain failure, and then provides them with almost no viable alternatives. Society doesn't want to help these people, it just wants to keep them out of too much mischief. Stay out of the way of the working folks all you crazy people.
And this is how you wind up with a lady walking down Westheimer talking to people who aren't there.
Edit to add: *Bob the Bum is not stupid and can be downright ingenious on avoiding arrest. Several years ago HPD started cracking down on them stepping out into the street to get the money people offered. Units were pulled off other responsibilities and they worked with undercover officers in plain cars. When the bum hopped off the curb to the get the money, the UC officer would identify him to the marked unit who would come out of hiding to grab him.
The bums countered with their secret weapon: Puppies.
Once someone is under arrest, the police become responsible for safeguarding them, and all the stuff they had with them when they got arrested. If any harm comes to them or their stuff (except that resulting from lawful use of force) it is an issue likely to bring about discipline against the responsible officer. Animals are an especially huge pain in the butt, because you have to turn them over to animal control. AC, or BARC as it is known in Houston, has like 1 guy and a broken down old truck to respond to such things, and he is always at least 30 miles away, in rush hour traffic, and he drives slow, and the truck brakes down, a lot.
Bob and company adopted puppies by the pack. They would sit on the corner with the puppy on a leash, or stuck in an old milk carton, and bop out in the street to collect their money. They knew they were damn near arrest-proof, because it would take a special kind of masochist to stand on the side of the street with Bob's pooch while waiting 2-4 hours for BARC to show up.