Newspaper shines light on Little Rock's homeless removal program | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Newspaper shines light on Little Rock's homeless removal program

Posted By on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 7:55 AM

click to enlarge POLICE TARGET: Feeding program at this church, From His Throne, at 1101 W. Markham.
  • POLICE TARGET: Feeding program at this church, From His Throne, at 1101 W. Markham.
Excellent reporting today in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Eric Besson and Hunter Field illuminates the concerted effort by Little Rock City Hall and the police to force the homeless out of downtown, in part in response to businesses who complain about problems that arise from their congregation at an evening feeding ministry.

The police crackdown became evident Friday, and was reported here Saturday, when the operator of the From His Throne church at 1101 West Markham complained of a police crackdown during evening dinner and the new placement of a  police surveillance camera on the block.

The D-G reporting, using FOI material, indicates that a police force short dozens of officers and facing a sharp jump in violent crime, has devoted a  violent crime unit and now a group of overtime officers to cracking down on homeless at several locations, particularly From His Throne, which has become the site of an evening feeding program as an alternative to a parking lot program ended by Broadway Bridge construction. The city has been striving to prevent re-establishment of the outdoor feeding by encouraging a volunteer idea, not yet operating, to truck the homeless out to the far end of Springer Boulevard to feed them nightly outside the city's (closed in the evening) day shelter for homeless, a site itself originally chosen for its long distance from downtown.

Memo from Police Chief Kenton Buckner dug up by the D-G:
... the chief said officers should "cite when possible until this mess is cleaned up. If they have no legal reason to be there, run them off."
Friday night, according to people at the homeless shelter, police tried to say standing in line on a public sidewalk amounted to the crime of loitering. The article today details many complaints made by one neighboring business about the congregation of homeless, particularly around the time dinner is served. Litter is apparent to any casual passerby. Drug sales, prostitution, fighting, public urination and other nuisance behavior has been alleged, though most police calls to the neighborhood haven't turned up violations.

The complaints led to the city manager-ordered camera overlooking the 1100 block of Markham. CCTV is an increasing fact of life in the U.S. and I don't think it's a bad idea as a  crime prevention tool (if it's monitored and used wisely and constitutionally.) I was particularly interested, however, in this reference to Mayor Mark Stodola:

In a July 26 email, Stodola called for a meeting of City Hall and Police Department officials "to discuss how we can put a stop to this conduct."
I'm interested because Stodola responded to my query about the police crackdown Friday by saying he knew nothing about it, but would inquire. He hasn't responded further to my followup questions.

I'd add that Police Chief Kenton Buckner and his public information officers and City Manager Bruce Moore also haven't responded to questions from me that began Saturday about the police operation.

Legitimate as concerns about homeless behavior are, the city has been ham-handed in dealing with it and exhibited bad faith in claiming it has interests of homeless at heart in attempting to ship them off to a forgotten, poor neighborhood where it has attempted previously to shunt the homeless (fruitlessly). City Director Erma Hendrix, who represents the neighborhood where the city hopes to quarantine the messy homeless, is right in terming her ward a city "dumping ground."

I wondered, too: Did they vote on that compassionate city designation last night at the City Board meeting? Awkward timing, if so.

One other small point: police seemed to dispute yesterday the From His Throne operator 's complaint that six police officers had turned out to hassle the homeless lined up on her sidewalk Friday night, including issuing orders that they go elsewhere. From the D-G on Tuesday.

Police responded to From His Throne three times on Friday, including twice in a seven-minute span, but made no arrests and issued no citations, McClanahan said. No more than two officers responded to each call, he said.
Three times two equals six.

UPDATE: Bruce Moore, Mark Stodola, Kenton Buckner and Scott McClanahan, the top police information officer, continue to stonewall our requests for information, with a tiny exception of a sort. McClanahan, after four days of silence, finally responded to a Twitter message from me to say that:

1) He does not respond to e-mail questions. Got that? He does not respond to email questions. Not even to say he doesn't respond to email questions. To my knowledge, he's the only person I've ever encountered paid to do what he does who does not respond to e-mail question.

2) As for my FOI request, he said: "email the FOI unit not me." In the typical, helpful, accountable public agency, an FOI request would simply be transferred to the appropriate person to handle the request. Not the LRPD, apparently. Nonetheless, McClanahan's response did not comport with the FOI law, which provides "if the person to whom the request is directed is not the custodian of the records, the person shall so notify the requester and identify the custodian ..." He gave me no response at all, and when finally pressed, did not identify the custodian.

PS: McClanahan did seem to suggest perhaps only 5, not 6, officers in total had turned out Friday to roust the homeless. I'm unclear because, in keeping with policy, wouldn't answer my e-mailed question. I again asked him for a copy of the video of the night and time in question, which should answer the question. Has it, too, been shit-canned by the opaque LRPD? We'll see.

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