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City Council | Hands off the Homeless?

City

Concerned police officers trying to wake up a homeless man sleeping on a bench park | Image by antoniodiaz, Shutterstock

Dallas police officers have allegedly been told not to enforce laws against vagrants and homeless people.

The Dallas Express recently spoke with Mike Stapell, a former Highland Park police officer, who said that Dallas police have been told “hands off the homeless” by the city government.

“Back in September, I made a call to 9-1-1 because someone was slow-walking a shopping cart down the middle of my street, and Dallas police officers did show up. They talked to the guy for only about three seconds and drove off. I called them back to ask them what the deal was,” he explained. “They said, ‘Well we’re under this policy and it’s called ‘hands off the homeless.'”

Stapell claimed he went to the Northeast Substation and spoke to a neighborhood police officer who reportedly confirmed the “hands off the homeless” policy.

“He basically backed up what they were saying — that there is a policy that they were under from the elected officials that said ‘hands off the homeless,'” he told The Dallas Express. “There are other police officers that will tell you they’re under no such ‘hands off the homeless’ policy [and] they’ve never heard of that, but I got it from 16 different officers spread across three districts.”

“They’re upset about the situation that they can’t go out there and enforce the law like they’re supposed to — like they’ve been trained to do,” Stapell continued, “because we’ve got a different entity saying something different.”

Stapell has spoken on this issue publicly before both the Citizen Homelessness Commission and the Dallas City Council.

“I’m here to discuss with you today the message that has been sent to DPD street officers, the message they say came from the elected body,” he told council members during a city council meeting on November 9.

“The message of ‘hands off the homeless’ — I want you to know just how dangerous and reckless that is.”

According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, the rate of violent criminal offenses is 40 times higher in the homeless and vagrant population than in people with homes, and homeless people are “significantly more likely to have been charged with victimizing strangers.”

In the developing areas of Dallas, some businesses have resorted to hiring private security to protect themselves from potentially violent vagrants, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

Stapell asserted to the council that officers are being called to scenes and witnessing crimes being committed, but they are unable to intervene.

“They’re putting themselves in danger. They’re putting you in danger, and most importantly, they’re putting me in danger,” he said. “This policy — if it didn’t come from you, you need to fix that. And if it did come from you, you need to fix that too.”

“This body has no idea how to keep this city safe. That should be left to the professionals,” he said. “Change the messaging to your street officers now to: ‘Do your job as you’ve been trained.'”

The Dallas Express reached out to the mayor and the city council for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia explicitly denied claims that the City has enacted a “hands off the homeless” policy.

When asked by The Dallas Express if city officials have directed his department not to enforce laws against the homeless, he said, “No, absolutely not.”

“There’s a nuance to it. … Homelessness in and by itself is not a crime. The crime that emanates from being in that environment is still a crime that we absolutely deal with,” he said. “We have never been instructed not to deal with the crime that is emanating from homeless encampments.”

“For us, a crime’s a crime and we don’t look at … someone [being] housed or homeless as a deterrent for us to deal with that crime,” Garcia said. “We will deal with that crime regardless of the living conditions.”

“We are getting help, obviously, from [the] Office of Homeless Solutions,” he added. “So, we want to help them out as well as they go into these environments because we know that oftentimes it can lead to violence in those areas, and so we’re working closely with them.”

In a recent interview with The Dallas Express, OHS Director Christine Crossley said she is comfortable with the current relationship between the DPD and the city’s homeless population, suggesting that social service specialists are often more equipped to properly handle situations with the homeless or vagrant than police officers.

“If your relationship with your unsheltered folk is only police, I don’t know how good of a relationship that is,” Crossley commented. “I think our police are very sensitive and have recognized that maybe they’re not the best point of contact. Maybe it should be those of us who are in the social service branch, and coming in with the marshals so that there is a security presence if needed.”

The OHS recently launched a new initiative called the Homeless Action Response Team (HART) program, which will deploy squads including marshals, code officers, and crisis intervention specialists to homeless or vagrant incidents “presenting an immediate safety concern.”

“The DPD has an incredible amount on their plate, and this can be shifted so somebody else,” Crossley said.

“I think we all agree that we would rather have Dallas police focusing on people who are in active danger and real crime,” she suggested, noting the importance of “recognizing what is most valuable in terms of time and where there are other resources so the DPD doesn’t necessarily have to be there.”

While the OHS has attempted to address the city’s homelessness problem through a variety of measures, polling shows that 76% of downtown residents still feel that “homelessness is a significant issue” and is comparable to cities like Austin, Houston, Chicago, and New York City.

In an attempt to curb panhandling, the City has asked residents to not give money to people on the street, suggesting that “Giving spare change without offering support could make matters worse,” and advising people to direct their donations to city services.

However, many vagrants continue to willingly remain homeless despite the services offered by both the City and non-profit organizations.

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Bret
Bret
8 days ago

They admittedly say that we do nothing to the homeless but we do address the crimes they commit. As the homeless count increases so will the crime! It is apparent that The police on the street are told to leave the homeless alone and the higher ups say we are fighting crime committed by the homeless. Pretty sure there are policies in place that do not allow homelessness at least in specific areas. And as always democrats and the left are ignoring these policies and using this word salad to cover. This is what they do. The city of Dallas has a better economy than most cities due to a conservative state government, which allows people to better their situation. No wonder Dallas is losing its population. Just a few years ago , Dallas was a city where people were moving to, rehabbing houses and areas, but due to the increase of crime people are looking for opportunities of investment in other areas. And the poor will continue to vote democrat and hope for government relief that will never happen. The government has never fixed anything

Lyndsay
Lyndsay
8 days ago

Let’s hope this is not true bc otherwise Dallas is going to become San Francisco or Chicago, a cesspool of homeless and lawless people overtaking the city! It’s already happening bc otherwise, why has crime drastically spiked in Dallas? This publication reports the spike in crime often. Wake up people, this is what happens when Democrats take over! Dallas County was blue in 2022 election.

R Reason
R Reason
Reply to  Lyndsay
6 days ago

Yes, wake up people, to “weaponized media” of the affluent, spreading propoganda to oppress the poor while making fools of the masses.

E H
E H
8 days ago

Keep it up City of Dallas! Great way to INCREASE the flight of educated money to the far northern suburbs. Great way to run down a city.

Vicky
Vicky
8 days ago

This is insane!!! So we pay HUGE TAX DOLLARS to live in Dallas. I do not want the homeless laying around in the median as I drive home or trying to get money from me when I come out of Target! They are making the city look disgusting and before long Dallas will be San Fransisco!!! We already have a large group under the overpass OPENLY DOING DRUGS!!!! CITY GOVERNMENT AND DPD NEED TO DO SOMETHING NOW!!!!!!

Billie Jean Baker
Billie Jean Baker
8 days ago

To be honest yes some homeless are decent people. Yet most of them just choose to be homeless so they don’t have to earn a living and can do drugs drink steal tear up everything and not held accountable!!! I know this because I was homeless and saw exactly what I’m saying! So just because someone is homeless they are supposed to go by the same rules as the rest of the world not be exempt from the laws!!! Yet because someone is homeless they are allowed to do drugs in public steal so the prices of everything goes up and attack and hurt people and get away with it!!! Yet because I’m not homeless if I was to do any of this I would be arrested taken to jail and giving fines and jail time!!! So being homeless should not be any kind of excuse to get away with breaking any law!!!

Blake
Blake
8 days ago

Homeless criminals aren’t just a problem downtown. I live a couple miles out of downtown in Oak Cliff and homeless criminals are everywhere you look. Stealing people’s mail, stealing packages, breaking into cars and apartments, hanging out on private property to do their drugs. Enough is enough. I shouldn’t have to explain to my son why the passed out man has a needle sticking out of his arm. I’m tired of this nonsense. It’s needs to be addressed and eliminated.

Ginger121
Ginger121
8 days ago

I don’t care what type of sympathy you have you don’t just allow people who choose to be homeless and not accept the services offered to them so they can stay within reach of drugs or not be under any rules..Taxpayers are the driving forces of your local governments and we are under rules to pay taxes or lose your home..The problem gets out of control when you give the homeless the choice of taking housing..no make them take the services offered them or go to a facility until you decide..Drugs is mainly the driving force of most of the homeless encampments and problem…Homeowners are tired of seeing trash all around encampments and our Taxpayers dollars pay to have the mess they make Cleaned up by city workers who are sometimes met with resistance from activist who threatened them for doing their job… Make the homeless clean up their own mess and hire them to help clean up other encampments…No one is saying homelessness is a crime it’s what they are doing in these encampments is a crime…just look at some of the ring camera footage..Do you think these are Taxpayers/ Homeowners breaking into houses and cars looking for something valuable…These are homeless vagrants looking for ways to pay for their next fix and because they get a slap on the hand they feel entitled…We are tired of seeing the endless amount of Walmart, Sam’s Club, Walgreens and CVS grocery baskets sitting around full of stuff or thrown around on the corners…These businesses are enables by not keeping their property secure…I was told by Walmart headquarters that when they take those baskets it’s theft…No consequences leads to lawlessness…If Mesquite, Plano, Mckinney, Frisco, Fairview, Rockwall, Cedar Hill, Desoto, Duncanville can keep this homeless problem somewhat at a minimum why can’t Dallas…People are moving to Dallas and surrounding Metropolitan areas to escape the mess of California, Washington State, Oregon, Nevada not to step right back into…Dallas City Leaders work for the ones that pay to keep this city safe and Support Our Police and First Responders…The homeless will be fed and clothed but we can let the control our city…

Ginger121
Ginger121
Reply to  Ginger121
8 days ago

I meant we can’t let them control our city…
Also the new Panhandling ordinance that is being met with resistance by activist I would like to ask the what is their solution? I think it’s a good start and I don’t handout money anymore to Panhandlers I support out church outreach ministry…They got to want to help themselves first. This problem is starting to pour into/near University Park area with open drug use, trash and graffiti and violence….Clean it up and send them to San Francisco if that’s what they desire to

R Reason
R Reason
Reply to  Ginger121
6 days ago

What’s worse… 1) navigating around the homeless that “pour into” our city? 2) being harassed by a Spectrum salesman inside the front door of the grocery store? 3) being tricked into spending half a day writing 500 word essays?

Mary Bluntzer, M.D.
Mary Bluntzer, M.D.
8 days ago

Once again, we expect government to fix problems. More agencies equals situation improvement? Highly unlikely. We need to learn the law and learn some useful interventions that individual citizens can take to manage the homeless in their neighborhood. Any ideas? Or do we just want to be taken care of by our govenment? So far that isn’t working. As the saying goes “It’s never too late to stop going down the wrong road.”

Bulky
Bulky
8 days ago

I work at an Chase Bank an homelessness is all time high, they are not committed an crime.The customer are afraid to do their night drop, In the day time they come around an be soliciting an begging customers for money, Couples if time Chase manager calls the police , it doesn’t stop them they leave after the police they comes back.

R Reason
R Reason
7 days ago

An ex-cop and a dog walk into a bar; the cop is disgruntled and the dog is rabid, and works for DX news….

The People’s Paper = The People’s Agitator

Mike Stapell
Mike Stapell
7 days ago

Let’s start out with the premise that what we are now doing is not working. We have undesirable looking homeless camps all over this city. The city will clean up a camp only to have those inhabitants return again and again. The guy under Central Expressway at Forest is forced to move again and again, He is advised to take his things and leave or lose them. While living under Central Expressway he has no access to bathrooms; he has no access to showers or laundry facilities; and he may or maybe not get someone to come by and offer assistance of some kind. When he asks The Dept. of Homeless Solutions where can I go, they don’t have an answer, for these are the most difficult cases? If he wants to maintain his possessions or a pet, the shelters won’t work for him. If he leaves that intersection, he is subject to losing all his worldly possessions through theft or the city cleaning things up. In short he is not being served as a citizen of Dallas.
The remedy to unsightly homeless camps is homeless camps that are designated, and serviced by the city of Dallas. We need 14 of them one for each council member district. A city sanctioned camp will have hot and cold running water; electricity and internet access. They need to have a community center where the homeless can receive services and counseling to be pointed in the direction of mental illness treatment and drug rehabilitation. A community center that has kitchen facilities, full bathroom facilities with showers, and laundry facilities. These camps should have sanitation services every week just like I get in the back of my house.
Once these city designated camps are set up then it will be easier to move camps from underneath bridges and highway right of ways. Outreach will be easier with 14 locations instead of 300. Real assistance can take place and trust can be built in a community setting.
Homeward Bound runs a diversion center that points clients in the right direction for services; the only problem is that like many city services it’s not scaled to meet demand. With 14 City of Dallas sanctioned homeless camps we can also have 14 more diversion centers bringing us close to meeting that need.
My vision is for this to be temporary, with facilities that are all portable as this is an experiment that’s totally unproven. If it fails to meet community acceptance, it can all be taken down quickly and easily. By utilizing shipping containers as visual barriers and storage facilities, and using portable buildings with all utilities above ground these camps can be stood up quickly with less red tape. The goal here is to serve those not being served, the difficult cases that are more entrenched that obviously need more help. Think of being able to help the most individuals just by having them present. Social services wouldn’t need to go looking for them.
Those living in a city sanctioned homeless camp and will feel more secure knowing they won’t be forced to move and won’t be losing their worldly possessions. They will have access to services that they would otherwise have to go find, it will all be there at their finger tips. The city will be able to institute a no tolerance policy since they will now have some place to go. We will no longer see our bridges and underpasses filled with tents, sleeping bags; shopping carts and filth.

Janet
Janet
Reply to  Mike Stapell
6 days ago

Great idea! Finally someone with an idea worth trying instead of the endless complaining that the homeless are ruining my wonderful life. At least this is a choice for those who choose it, and if it is not 100% successful, at least it is a more humane effort. The OHS HART plan sounds reasonable too. The cost may be a factor, but so is the cost of revenue flight from the city. The details at least should be looked at.

Tena
Tena
5 days ago

I have personal knowledge that a homeless person was arrested last week in Dallas County and charged with criminal trespassing, a Class B misdemeanor. This person remained in county jail for at least 3 days before released by the court on a PR bond with a February court date. Guess these particular police officers and the courts haven’t gotten the “hands off the homeless” memo.