Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department said they have observed police cars from at least four suburban departments drop off what appeared to be homeless people on the streets of downtown Los Angeles in the last year, their captain said Friday.
The claim comes a day after Capt. Andrew Smith, who commands the downtown division, said he and a partner saw two sheriff’s deputies drop off a mentally ill man in skid row after he was released from the Central Jail.
Officials from three of the departments -- El Monte, El Segundo and Pasadena -- all said they had no knowledge of their officers driving people to downtown as a way of getting them out of their communities. Though acknowledging that “dumping” was a common practice years ago, the officials now say their departments have strict bans on the practice.
Moreover, they offered to investigate if the LAPD provided dates and times. Officials from the fourth agency, the Burbank Police Department, declined repeated requests for comment.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department continued to strongly defend the actions of its deputies, saying they were simply trying to help the man, Byron Harris, receive social services after he was released from jail.
Still, the Sheriff’s Department’s Office of Independent Review said it would begin an investigation. “The department has an obligation to find out what happened here,” said Michael Gennaco, head of the review office.
Downtown officials and police have long suspected that other departments were dumping the homeless, mentally ill people and criminals in downtown, but have found little solid proof. Earlier this year, the LAPD ordered officers to begin stopping out-of-area police cars they saw dropping off people in downtown.
Harris had been released from jail and had been loitering around the building for more than 12 hours when the deputies, under orders from a supervisor, took the man, handcuffed him, and drove him to skid row.
Smith said he was on patrol with his partner about 10 a.m. Tuesday when he noticed a county sheriff’s car. Smith said deputies took Harris from the car, un-cuffed him and handed him a bag with his belongings. He then stopped the man and the deputies and questioned all three. He said Harris told him he had not asked to be brought downtown.
On Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department said its deputies had reported dropping off the man at a food line for the Midnight Mission, a block from where Smith said he stopped the deputies.
But on Friday, the department offered a different explanation. Spokesman Steve Whitmore said deputies initially took the man to the Los Angeles Mission, which was closed, and then drove him to the Christian Day Center at 431 E. 7th St., which Whitmore said distributes fliers outside the jail. (A spokesman from the Christian Day Center said that the facility was a resource agency that helped homeless people find shelter and treatment, but that it did not have medical services on site.)
As for Harris, after talking with Smith, the deputies decided Harris was too agitated to turn loose and placed him on a 72-hour psychiatric hold. Whitmore said Friday that Harris had been moved to another hospital for an “unspecified medical condition.”
Smith, who has run the downtown LAPD division for nearly a year, said he has often heard that if other jurisdictions have problem people, “the easiest thing to do is gaff him up and drive him downtown in your car.”
He said his officers had seen cars from other suburban districts dumping people, often under cover of darkness.
But officials from three of the four cities Smith named denied any knowledge of such a practice.
Pasadena Police Department spokeswoman Janet Pope said officers would bring a person downtown only if that person had connections to the area and had requested the ride.
Department policy, Pope said, prohibits dumping in another jurisdiction anyone who is homeless or in need of mental health treatment.
Fifteen years ago, a Pasadena officer was fired after being caught leaving someone in a neighboring city, Pope said -- and any officer doing so now would face a similar punishment. Pope said the department would welcome any information from Smith.
El Segundo Police Capt. David Cummings said: “It certainly isn’t our policy or procedure. We don’t condone that behavior by any of our officers.”
Cummings said that under certain circumstances, a watch commander could authorize someone to be transported out of the city. But he said downtown Los Angeles would be too far to go under any circumstances. “If you had asked me this 20 years ago, I would have said yes. But it was never the best practice,” Cummings said.
Cummings said he too would investigate any LAPD complaint about officers dropping off people in downtown L.A.
Sgt. Michelle States of the El Monte Police Department said her agency works with local organizations and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to address homelessness issues in the community, and does not take people to other jurisdictions.
“If someone from the Los Angeles Police Department has seen El Monte officers dropping off people in Los Angeles, we’d certainly like to know about it,” she said.
Some social service providers drew a distinction between bringing a person downtown for services -- which they said was understandable -- and dropping someone off on a street corner with only the hope that the person would seek treatment or help.
Sometimes, said Larry Johnson of Pasadena’s Union Station Foundation, “the only services that are available are on skid row. Although we don’t like to make referrals to skid row, sometimes the only beds in the county are down there.”
But Smith said any influx of more people into the area hinders what is already difficult work.
“The bottom line is,” Smith said, “the service providers in downtown and the skid row area cannot accommodate all the intoxicated, drug-addicted and homeless individuals from all over the county.
“And all you have to do is walk down there ... to know that there is not enough room at the inn for the whole county.”