WEHOville.com Staff Report
WHEN CAPT. ED RAMIREZ OF THE Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s West Hollywood Station met with the City Council for an update on public safety, the intoxicating congratulatory smiles over the drop in major crime quickly changed to the sobering reality of the mhuman crisis facing most American communities:
Homelessness and the associated issues, including crimes committed by the homeless.
It is a personal issue with Ramirez, a man with three decades in the Sheriff’s Department who has a strong belief in community involvement. To that end, he serves as a board member for the nonprofit Shelter Partnership, a homeless support organization.
“I’m happy to think outside, even remove, the box if it’s not immoral, illegal or going to land me on the front page. Let’s try it,” said Ramiirez in outlining his approach to involvement in a community when he became the new commanding officer of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station two years ago.
So it is not surprising that homelessness has touched him in ways few things ever have in his almost four-decades long law enforcement career.
“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to tackle in my 35-plus years of law enforcement,” Ramirez said. “We have to come up with an answer and we continue to offer services. Unfortunately a lot of our homeless [citizens] do not accept services.”
And then there were the mixed messages from the public itself, offering opinions, raising question, but not having any substantive answers or solutions. Half the members of the public want the homeless left alone, he said, and the other half want them moved somewhere else.
Council members told Ramirez they receive a number of emails and calls from residents, concerned over what they are convinced to be an an increase of homeless people and crimes they’re committing.
“It also seems like we’re getting violent crimes having to do with [the] homeless,” said Councilwoman Lauren Meister. “While I understand we’re going through a terrible time in terms of rents and people being able to pay their rent, I think these crimes are among homeless who are transients, are substance abusers, have mental issues. I don’t think these are the people who just got evicted from their apartment on Fountain.”
Meister called for more tools to help getting people off the streets, suggesting to potentially shift the hours of the city’s outreach teams.
“These are people who are in the streets who need mental health care,” she said. “We’re not able to provide it because… I don’t know why.”
Ramirez said that the issue of the homeless is one that deputies are continuing to monitor, but that the problem exists throughout the state. He said deputies have arrested some unhoused individuals for quality of life crimes, but that they are also working to connect them to services.
“We will arrest our way out of the problem if we have to,” Ramirez has said in the past, noting that he sees homeless tent encampments in Hollywood on his daily drive home to Pasadena.
“Tent cities in West Hollywood are against the law,” he said. “You won’t see them in West Hollywood.”
For law enforcement officers, Ramirez said, it is an ongoing challenge balancing “quality of life for people who live, work and play in West Hollywood along with the civil rights of the homeless.
“We offer assistance,” he said, “first and over and over.”