Two cops will be assigned fulltime to Housing Authority complexes in the Southeast and Southwest policing districts. The Housing Authority will pick up the tab.
The Police Department and the Housing Authority have renewed this annual contract for some 20 years.
Ho-hum, you might say. Dig a little deeper, though, and you find a deal that reveals a truth often ignored in City Hall debate over equity: The poor value neighborhood safety as highly as the wealthy, and depend just as much on residential screening to secure it.
Some might say we’re talking about discrimination when it comes to shelter. I say we’re talking about common sense.
Chief Jerry Dyer on Thursday asked for authority to enter into a handful of agreements with the Housing Authority to provide additional security at more than a dozen public housing complexes.
The one-year cost: A maximum of $296,146. The money, coming from the feds, will pay the salaries for two police officers plus a variety of operational costs. The complexes are: Sequoia Courts, Sierra Plaza, Fairview Heights Terrace, Sequoia Courts Terrace, Sierra Terrace, Yosemite Village, DeSoto Gardens 1, DeSoto Gardens 2, Legacy Commons, Cedar Courts, Cedar Courts II, Monte Vista, Viking Village and Inyo Terrace.
Lydia Carrasco, deputy chief/patrol divisions, wrote the report to the council. She notes that the Police Department since the mid-1990s has received funding from the Housing Authority to “to enhance local law enforcement capabilities through Community Oriented Policing techniques, specifically targeting public housing.”
Community oriented policing, Carrasco writes, calls in part for more citizen responsibility in maintaining safety in individual neighborhoods. Police officers assist in this effort on many levels, including building relationships with local residents. Thriving neighborhoods are the goal. That means community standards must be upheld without compromise.
Carrasco writes: “It is absolutely essential that families have a stable environment in which to raise and enjoy their families. The Police Department is committed to working with the Housing Authority to prevent crime and maintain a peaceful environment. We will accomplish this through uniformed police presence and active enforcement, coupled with creative, resourceful proactive efforts in collaboration with the Housing Authority.”
Those stable family environments will be achieved in part by the Police Department providing the Housing Authority with “criminal background checks to screen prospective residents,” Carrasco writes.
The FPD/Housing Authority deal was on the council’s consent calendar. Council Member Garry Bredefeld, whose District 6 covers Northeast Fresno, pulled the item for further discussion. Chief Dyer went to the public microphone.
Bredefeld asked Dyer to talk a bit about the program.
Dyer said the FPD/Housing Authority contractual relationship of 20-plus years has involved either police officers or community service officers. He said the department currently provides the extra security and services to 14 sites.
The two police officers make sure that the people in those complexes “are not going to be problematic,” Dyer said. The officers “also respond to calls within those complexes to prevent officers in the field from having to respond. And then they do a number of community projects within those sites as well.”
Bredefeld repeated the Chief’s numbers – 14 sites and two police officers. It was as if the Council Member wondered if that was enough personnel to do the job. If so, Dyer recognized the implication.
“Some of those complexes are more maintenance intensive than others,” Dyer said. “Yes, it’s grown to about 14 different sites in those two (policing) districts. I think in the near future we’re probably going to be having a discussion about expanding the presence of officers so they’re not so spread out.”
Bredefeld asked, “The need for this is because these areas get a lot of calls?”
Dyer responded: “These are all locations that have been chosen by the Housing Authority where they felt that there should be an increased presence of officers. They’re also locations that we know that if we don’t have a presence there’s a potential for incidents to arise where it’s going to necessitate the presence of officers coming from the field. So, it’s more of a proactive, problem-solving approach, having those officers present.
“And probably the main thing is screening those tenants to make sure that we’re not getting bad tenants in there. You get a few bad tenants in a complex, it can ruin the entire complex.”
Council President Esmeralda Soria asked how the FPD/Housing Authority partnership originated.
Dyer said the officers originally were called ENPA officers – Evict Narcotics from Public Housing.
“That’s how it originated,” Dyer said. “Then it evolved into this. Initially, they had a lot of drug activity occurring in certain complexes where these individuals were staying.”
Soria asked, “Is the model that you’ll be using more the community policing model?”
Dyer responded: “It not only will be but has been over the years. Those officers that are dedicated to those complexes put on community events. Officer Steve Hunt in Southwest Fresno put on a large block party for one here recently and brought in a number of social service providers, food, entertainment, etc. They’re really community policing officers that are dedicated to those sites. They get to know the residents. People get to know them. They’re accessible. It’s more than a uniformed presence, and sometimes it not even a uniform that they’re wearing. But they are the ‘go to’ person for those locations and the residents.”
Soria asked if the two officers also respond to calls for service in neighborhoods surrounding the 14 Housing Authority complexes.
Dyer said the two officers are not part of the minimum daily staffing that serves Fresno as a whole. The Housing Authority pays for the officers, therefore the officers perform their duties within areas selected by the Housing Authority.
“However,” the Chief said, “should a need arise, an emergency response needed by those officers anywhere in the city, they’re available to respond.”
Council Member Oliver Baines, a former Fresno police officer whose council district includes Southwest Fresno, warmed to the discussion.
“Those officers really do become like members of the complexes and with those communities,” Baines said. “Particularly the officers I remember, and Steve Hunt is one of them. Steve is a great officer. But those officers really do form relationships with the residents. They become part of those complexes in many cases. It’s a good program, I remember that. I was an officer when it started. It has served the Housing Authority and the Police Department well.”
Dyer had the final word before the council unanimously gave him the green light: “It’s a great model to replicate citywide if you had a sufficient number of officers to do that.”
I give you five personal takeaways from the hearing:
- I take the word “screening” to mean prospective tenants deemed potential troublemakers by their past criminal records are kept out of these Housing Authority projects. If so, kudos to the Housing Authority.
- No one in the Council Chamber audience or from the dais claimed this “screening” process is discrimination or a form of bias. People want to live where it’s quiet and safe. That’s why public safety is always the No. 1 issue in Fresno politics.
- Housing Authority projects apparently have the political juice to “screen” (with police help and without legal or moral repercussion) who lives and doesn’t live in its projects. The vast majority of Fresnans don’t live in Housing Authority projects. How are they to “screen” from living in their neighborhoods the “bad” residents, just a few of whom, in the Chief’s words, can “ruin” an entire complex or neighborhood? Near as I can tell, the rest of Fresno can’t. Nor can banks and other institutions making home loans. Nor can the city officials who craft and approve general plans and housing elements. Doesn’t seem fair to me, especially in a city that has grown as racially and ethnically diverse as Fresno. What’s good for Housing Authority projects is good from an entire community.
- The officers were initially known as Evict Narcotics from Public Housing officers. Narcotics as well as bad people can ruin neighborhoods. I contend that includes the abuse of legal marijuana and legal opioids.
- Once again, we create a society full of contradictions, then call on the police to ensure that everything runs smoothly. OK, if that’s what we want, that’s what we get. But if we’re going to abdicate personal responsibility to uniformed authority, then, as the Chief said, you have to have “a sufficient number of officers to do that.” The voters of Fresno should keep that in mind as November general election approaches and the campaign for Measure P heats up.