July 15, 2024
Spokane Police Defiant on Illegal Camping Enforcement, Despite SCOTUS Ruling

Spokane Police Defiant on Illegal Camping Enforcement, Despite SCOTUS Ruling

(Tim Clouser, The Center Square) The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Martin v. Boise on Friday set up Spokane to finally enforce its voter-approved camping ban intended to curtail the scourge of homelessness, although not much has changed in the days since that decision.

The Grants Pass v. Johnson ruling reverses the precedent that prohibited cities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances if they lack enough shelter beds for their homeless population. The landmark decision set the stage for municipalities nationwide to begin prosecuting illegal camping.

Back in November, 75% of Spokane voters passed Proposition 1, which made camping within 1,000 feet of parks, daycare or schools illegal. The voter-approved ordinance also bans camping within 50 feet of a viaduct and three blocks of any congregate shelter.

However, the Spokane Police Department never fully enforced Prop 1 or the city’s “sit and lie” ordinance due to concerns from fallout over the Martin v. Boise decision. But now that it’s been overturned, SPD Interim Chief Justin Lundgren said police will at least think about abiding by the law.

“Officers will respond to illegal camping complaints as able and warranted,” Lundgren wrote in a statement, “depending on the particular situation, other calls for service, and staffing.”

Councilmember Jonathan Bingle sent out a draft resolution on Tuesday, calling on Mayor Lisa Brown to direct SPD to fully enforce Prop 1. The measure also requests that Brown implement an educational campaign to inform residents of the effects of Grants Pass v. Johnson.

Currently, SPD requires residents to call its non-emergency number before responding to an illegal camping incident; however, Bingle said there’s no provision in Prop 1 that requires constituents to call 311.

“Prop 1 is on the books; it is a law, it needs to be enforced,” Bingle said. “There’s no justifiable reason or position for us to not enforce this law. Whether city council wants to or not is irrelevant; it’s time to enforce these laws.”

Still, he understands that understaffing might limit SPD’s ability to enforce Prop 1 and other crimes throughout Spokane.

Leftist cities cut their law-enforcement considerably in 2020, in the aftermath of the George Floyd race riots, and are now dealing with the consequences of the “defund the police” movement.

Bingle said SPD is “woefully understaffed for a city our size” and desperately needs to bolster its numbers to prioritize illegal camping and other crimes.

Bingle recognizes the associated costs of enforcing Prop 1, but said the city also has a duty to keep its community safe.

On Tuesday, Bingle emailed Sheldon Jackson, chief executive officer and founder of Selkirk Development, asking him to disseminate the draft resolution to his informal “SPOTLIGHT” newsletter, which includes around 200 community members, including some elected officials.

Jackson regularly patrols Spokane in his free time, counting the homeless people in various parts of the city before reporting back to the newsletter.

On Tuesday morning, he counted 51 individuals in the area where Brown declared a state of emergency only a few weeks prior.

“We are trying to figure out how to eliminate the need to contact 311 for enforcing Prop 1,” Bingle wrote in an email to Jackson. “But we need everyone to report based on Prop 1 until we have that process completed. Please start right now.”

Jackson provided an interactive map outlining all the areas within city limits where camping is currently illegal under local law; included in those areas are the House of Charity homeless shelter and CAT Spokane, or Compassionate Addiction Treatment, a local service provider.

Unverified reports are circulating that City Attorney Mike Piccolo gave the go-ahead to fully enforce Prop 1 without restrictions. He did not respond to a request for comment.

SPD Spokeswoman Julie Humphreys could not verify whether or not the department had issued any citations for illegal camping since Friday’s decision.


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