One evening not long ago in Albuquerque, a team of undercover police officers came upon a homeless man in the street.
They did not bust him, nor did they roust him, they did not force him to get up and move along — to a shelter or someplace less unsightly than the sidewalk. No they sold him some crack cocaine, for whatever price he could pay, in this case $3 and the man’s battered jacket.
Then they busted him, for possession of the crack.
When Albuquerque Police Department chief Gordon Eden was criticized for what he called a “reverse sting” operation, he defended it vigorously, claiming he was responding to dozens of “quality of life” complaints from citizens who don’t like walking around people “sleeping out.” He also claimed his sell and bust trick prevented crimes and saved lives. Seven of eight homeless people arrested in these stings, he said, had priors, of a sort, they’d been arrested before on suspicion of property crimes. He didn’t mention if any of those arrests had produced convictions, or just gotten someone off the street.
As to the life-saving aspect, helping the homeless become criminals, he said, may get some of them the drug rehabilitation and social services they wouldn’t get if they weren’t arrested.
I suspect these busts also give a much-criticized, radically-understaffed police department some easy, usually very safe, arrests with which to pad personal and departmental statistics.
This kind of law enforcement certainly does dis-incentivize the homeless life, as if that were something people rationally chose. It adds one more stress to lives already burdened, and of its “tough-love” push towards treatment, let’s just say, …there are better ways to accomplish that laudable goal.
Our guest today, Hank Hughes, has devoted more than a decade to getting homeless people into better lives; lives which offer addiction and mental health treatment, employment skills training and jobs, and yes, a regular place to stay.
Hank is the Executive Director of the NM Coalition to End Homelessness.