Columbia police see increase in arrests of homeless people

nophillips@thestate.comAugust 20, 2013 

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— Crime involving homeless people in Columbia has increased nearly 45 percent since 2008, especially in the number of cases of begging and loitering.

Interim Columbia police Chief Ruben Santiago cited two reasons for the increase in arrests:

• The number of homeless people living in Columbia has increased

• A proactive effort to enforce city ordinances that address loitering, public drunkenness and other petty crimes.

“We’ve got to make sure we start enforcing these ordinances and laws because people don’t want to see this in our common areas,” Santiago said.

The Columbia Police Department provided the data that divided incidents into seven categories. An incident counted as involving a homeless person when a suspect told an officer that he or she did not have a permanent address or gave one of the city’s shelters as an address, Santiago said.

“Most of the homeless people don’t try to hide the fact they are homeless,” Santiago said.

The report does not show where the incidents happened, although most occur within the metro region that covers downtown and some parts of the north and south regions that include North Main Street and Five Points, respectively.

Overall crime involving homeless people increased 44 percent between 2008 to 2012, with incidents rising to 946 cases from 659, according to the report.

This year, police have made 669 arrests involving homeless people.

The biggest jumps in arrests came in liquor law violations and begging/loitering categories. The number of arrests for drunkenness dropped during the five-year period, according to the report.

The statistics provide a picture on the types of problems police find when dealing with homeless people and add to the ongoing debate over how to handle the homeless population.

Earlier this month, City Council approved a plan to divert homeless people from downtown to a year-round shelter for seven months while city leaders and homeless service providers work out a long-term solution.The plan was driven by complaints from businesses and residents about homeless people wandering the streets and begging for money. But it has led to threats of lawsuits from people who say the new plan violates civil rights. And city staffers have voiced disagreements with council on how they will carry out the plan.


City of Columbia homeless arrest data

As homeless population grows so does number of arrests

Incident type 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Year-to-date
Simple assault 74 67 47 56 70 47
Begging/loitering 76 76 34 95 186 88
Disorderly conduct 81 58 40 54 80 73
Drunkenness 255 217 197 184 198 143
Liquor law violation 79 79 107 152 222 162
Trespassing 91 81 83 102 178 145
Unlawful urination 3 3 9 10 12 11
Total 659 581 517 653 946 669

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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