Santa Barbara- S County

Street Transients React to Santa Barbara Police Crackdown

Sitting on benches isn't the problem that's brought extra police to downtown

Street Transients React to Santa Barbara Police Crackdown

SANTA BARBRA,Calif. - They have been called vagrants by Police Chief Cam Sanchez who recently sent more patrol officers to an area of downtown Santa Barbara where packs of young people have been reportedly linked to many crimes.

On a long list of complaints, is the problem of  begging for food from customers at outside cafes, and blocking the sidewalk with both personal belongings and items for sale.

"It's uncomfortable, because they are outside of a lot of restaurants," said resident Brenda Marzouca who has seen customers approached by transients during an outside meal.  She said it was not appropriate and occurs often.

Nearby Robert Battistone just finished a burger at an outside cafe and said, "Yes it's true, there are all sorts of disreputable people sitting here and scrounging for people's sandwiches. It's not good."    He said they should be directed to a local park nearby.

Sitting on benches and hanging out isn't an offense, and police say that is not their focus.

What is a problem has been, aggressive panhandling, illegal vending,  shoplifting , drug use and similar offenses. That's  led to 151 citations and  eight felony arrests already this month.

One man from Los Angeles, upset at the upgraded enforcement, says he was cited while sitting on a wall and a person  nearby was also written up.

"My friend was sitting here,  he collects stones like pebbles and rocks and  makes them into jewelry and tries to sell them. That's what he was doing here and they said he was selling narcotics and he got arrested just for that," said a young man calling himself "Slim."

He claims he was arrested for sitting on a wall on Gutierrez Street recently.  When asked what violation police cited him for, Slim said illegal lodging.

"I think we as the people should be able to do what ever the hell we want to do. That's what I do," said Slim.

He also did a spin dance in the middle of the sidewalk with his arms and legs extended out.  Some pedestrians had to move out of the way.

Police say when the public does have an issue or if they see a crime,  they need to call for an officer and  possibly do more.  "Some folks are not inclined to take that time or to make that effort to do that , but that is the most helpful for us,  and to stand by," said Sgt. Riley Harwood.

He also pointed out, Chief Cam Sanchez has been out to see the issues personally including a morning visit to several homeless camps where conditions were unsanitary.

The main focus of the upgraded downtown partols has been on State St. between Ortega St. and Cota St.

Another group of business owners will be urging the police to step up patrols in other areas of downtown soon where similar problems take place. The city may also relocate some benches to make it less attractive for those begging for money.

There is also a piece of artwork made of bricks in the mid block area that has been surrounded now by orange cones and yellow tape.  The city says it is being cleaned and repaired.

It was a common spot for the transients to hang out and pepper passersby with requests for cash.

One young person on the street today said he was taking a public poll to see where he should have a metal ring attached to his body.  Next to him was a notebook with the  recent tally.

Another man said he was not a drinker but he needed cash.  He had his bike, a place to sit, a sign, and a basket of change in front of him. When asked if he had used any of the city's already established services for food, shelter, health care, and job assistance, he said he was turned away.

During the lunch hour, patrol cars, and officers on bikes were in the area.  At times when the police were seen, those who were standing in groups started walking in different directions.


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