The issue is public safety, criminal behavior – not homelessness

Last modified: 5/23/2013 8:02:02 AM
The Monitor has published several articles and columns in recent days detailing some of the individual circumstances of homeless people in Concord. I’d like to let readers know what the police department’s role has been in dealing with some very real safety concerns regarding homelessness in our city.

Much of my time in recent months has been spent addressing the safety concerns of citizens and business owners and how to approach solutions to these very real problems involving homeless individuals. Progress is being made. The Concord City Council last Monday approved a new ordinance dealing with the passing and receiving of items along the roadway. This new ordinance received wide support from homeless advocates and community members alike.

I’m also part of the mayor’s committee to draft a 10-year plan to end homelessness. We have met twice, and there is much work to be done. There are no easy answers, strategies or solutions to adequately deal with the stark realities of homelessness; if there were, communities across the country would not be grappling with the same concerns that we are.

This year, the behavioral problems associated with many individuals who are homeless surfaced quickly with the arrival of spring. Private landowners downtown began experiencing a proliferation of unacceptable behaviors, often criminal in nature, from individuals squatting on their property. Moreover, there were health and sanitary conditions that carried equal concern.

As a result, the landowners asked for relief in addressing public safety and the deterioration of their private property. The police began by notifying homeless individuals that they could not remain on the property. Weeks later, the officers issued warnings and provided a reasonable amount of time for the individuals to move from the private property. This was followed by written summonses for those who did not comply with the warning. Nearly 20 individuals were given court dates for trespass. Nearly none of those individuals were required to post bail, but were instead provided a ticket to appear to court. Only one individual was taken into physical custody. His demeanor warranted a stricter approach.

Like the new “passing” ordinance that deals with managing unsafe behaviors involving solicitations from motor vehicles, the police are responding to the concerns of citizens and private landowners to mitigate behaviors that are unsafe. The recent focus behind the Concord Center was the result of specifically identified criminal activities and sanitation concerns.

The Concord Police Department has also increased patrols downtown in direct response to complaints from citizens and business owners who have reported other types of criminal behavior from homeless individuals.

My past, in no small measure, has helped mold the person I am today. I was raised in Manchester, one of six children. We lived in a single-family home, on the West Side, in a safe neighborhood. Life was good, until the time it wasn’t. Due to family circumstances, we lost everything: house, car and safe neighborhood. It was a difficult time. We received government assistance with food stamps and the free lunch program. Were it not for the kindness and generosity of family members, church and others, who knows what would have happened. Crisis touched my life, and I am empathetic to the predicament of the homeless.

Homelessness in Concord is a concern for me. So is criminal behavior and public safety.

There are certainly homeless individuals within Concord who do not engage in criminal behavior. Those who do, however, will receive the requisite response from the police in order to protect the safety of the community. The Concord police will continue to partner with stakeholders and other concerned citizens to find sustainable solutions for anyone requesting help or assistance.

(John Duval is the Concord police chief.)

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