When San Diego Police Department Northern Division Captain Tina Williams spoke before the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla on April 12 at the Community Center, she covered a variety of topics. These included how Northern Division is different from the broader department; whether the intersection of Nautilus Street and Fay Avenue is safe when Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High schools let out; problems at the San Diego/Mexico border; the most challenging part of her job; and others.
But Kiwanian questions and the Captain’s statements seemed to focus on one issue: Homelessness.
Among the changes to the department, Williams said San Diego Police recently created a Neighborhood Policing Division that will specifically handle the issue.
“We have two sides of that Division — the Homeless Outreach Team offers services and ways to bring those folks off the streets and in for help; and the Quality of Life team is our enforcement unit that addresses encampments or those who set up in front of businesses,” she said. “So when we go into someone’s encampment … police collaborate with (the City department of) Environmental Services to clean it up. With that though, because of the quantity and volume of items, it does take a couple of days.”
Further, the SDPD recently acquired the former San Diego Chargers football team’s training facility to house and train the Neighborhood Policing Division.
“It’s going to be called the San Diego Police Plaza,” Williams continued. “The plan is to house our Neighborhood Policing Division there, as well as our SWAT team, and the traffic unit currently in a 25-year-old trailer off Aero Drive. We’ll have three units right there.”
The other “big thing” pertaining to the homeless population is the change in car-sleeping enforcement. In August 2018, a U.S. District court judge ordered the San Diego Police Department to cease enforcement of vehicle habitation laws because the law was too vague. But, Williams said, the San Diego City Council is working on another ordinance to regulate vehicle habitation in residential areas.
Kiwanian Trenton Bonner asked how Northern Division relates to homelessness help in general.
Williams replied: “Our Neighborhood Policing Division’s job is to direct our homeless population and get them help for the issues they face. But every patrol officer out there can respond to a homeless situation. The expectation is, ‘if I’m driving by and I see someone setting up an encampment … and I’m not responding to a higher priority call, I am to stop, address the situation and let the individual know there are services for them.’ That is a collateral duty for everything else they handle, but if I’m assigned to Neighborhood Policing Division, that is all I’d do.”
Another Kiwanian said she had firsthand experience with the Homeless Outreach Team and found them to be “caring,” and taking the job “seriously.”
Another attendee asked what the exact number of homeless people in San Diego is currently. Williams said she did not know because the City just completed its annual point-in-time count (a one-day snapshot of persons living either on the streets or in short-term shelters). “The City tries to get the most accurate number so they can get the funding for the most number of services,” she advised, adding that the data will be forthcoming.
Northern Division overview: Williams said Northern Division, is one of the larger commands in the Police Department. “(Northern Division) is 43 square miles,” she said, noting the downtown patrol command is 10 square miles. “That includes inland areas of Clairemont all the way to the beach and Fiesta Island; all the way down to Sea World, the water is our western border, up to Torrey Pines and east of the 805 freeway.”
She added there 235,000 residents within Northern Division, large financial institutions with thousands of employees, and more.
Crimes of opportunity: When it comes to crimes specific to Northern Division, Williams said crimes of opportunity tend to dominate. “We live in a beautiful community and sometimes people forget (there is also crime), so they leave their doors unlocked and their windows open. … Then you have valuables that are left in plain view. So we see a lot of crimes of opportunity,” she said.
Scooter enforcement: Speaking to the electric scooter issues that have plagued the beach communities, Williams said Mayor Kevin Faulconer has developed an ordinance to regulate scooter use and “we are going to wait and see where that goes,” she said. “The police department is active in the enforcement of anything that’s currently on the books, so if an ordinance passes, (we can) look at problem-solving, such as using geo-netting to control speeds, making it so you can’t start and stop your ride on a boardwalk, etc.”
— Kiwanis Club of La Jolla meets at noon, Fridays at either the La Jolla Community Center or La Jolla Presbyterian Church. Newcomers are welcome. kiwanisclublajolla.org