Posted by The Daily Camera
By Sean Maher, CEO
One silver lining of COVID-19 for me was learning to work remotely. Since 2020, I’ve been spending time in Palm Springs during the winter months and staying connected via Zoom and Slack.
Needless to say, Palm Springs is different than Boulder in many ways. However, there are similarities as well. Like Boulder, it is a small, highly educated and progressive city focused on managing growth, fighting climate change and providing an amazing quality of life.
Also, just like Boulder, there are growing numbers of people here who do not share in that quality of life. The homeless. For a variety of reasons, some people find themselves dealing with a life crisis and have nowhere to go. Others are in the grip of mental illness or drug addiction. A third group is made up mostly of transients who have chosen a lifestyle and are prone to violence and crime.
Like Boulder, the approach here in Palm Springs for years has been to look at the homeless population as a homogenous group of victims whose problems can be solved by spending more money and providing more resources. At the same time, legislators and judges have crippled the ability of police and prosecutors to enforce laws.
And guess what? Just like in Boulder and many other progressive cities, this dual approach has not worked. Year after year, as spending on homeless programs has skyrocketed, the number of people on the street has only increased. As police officers have backed away from enforcement, crime has gone up and basic public safety has suffered.
Here in Palm Springs, the police chief has had enough and is changing course. Last month, he launched a new initiative aimed at helping those who need it but also cracking down on criminals who break the law.
Operation Relentless Sun has three components. The first is to create a communication plan to educate people on help available to them but also letting them know that crime will have consequences. Officers are briefed on available resources and will assist in providing access to people who need them. However, they have also been directed to return to enforcing laws meant to protect the safety of people and property. Even if they know an offender will wind up back on the street within hours, officers will make the arrest and book the suspect. In addition, police will identify 30 of the worst offenders for special attention and tracking. Finally, officers will conduct frequent “point-in-time” counts to collect data and evaluate results.
Will this change of course in Palm Springs work? Time will tell but I applaud the efforts of the chief. While no one questions the need to help people in crisis, those who choose to commit crimes need to face consequences.
Back home, there are debates taking place on a couple of related issues. First is the camping ban in Boulder and whether it should be enforced or even kept in place. The answer to both questions is yes. As enforcement has waned over the years, criminal behavior has increased. This is especially concerning near schools and parks where drug dealing and drug use are threatening kids. Further weakening the ban or eliminating it will only exacerbate the problems with crime in Boulder.
The second is HB1169 which is a proposal in the state Legislature to prohibit officers from arresting suspects for committing certain low-level offenses. In essence this bill ties the hands of police and victims by creating an environment where offenders know they can break the law without consequence. It is not well conceived and I hope our legislators will oppose it.
The homeless problem in Boulder and across the nation is complicated. We must find new and better approaches to help those who need it. But one thing that experience has taught us over and over is that we must also enforce the basic rules of a civil society. I am glad that Palm Springs has learned that lesson. I hope we do in Boulder as well.
Sean Maher is the CEO of RRC Associates in Boulder. He can be reached at email@example.com to blog