Tips from the San Diego Police Department

San Diego Police Department

Dealing with Homeless People

Homelessness is an extremely complex social problem that impacts the quality of life in our community. There are no easy solutions.

The SDPD and elected officials in the City and County recognize that there is a fine line between homelessness as a social issue and a criminal issue. Many homeless people are on the street because of substance abuse, mental illness or both.

Often the disorder issues associated with homelessness are criminal in nature but difficult to enforce. To assist the City and County to provide better service to this at-risk population, the SDPD has created the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). The team consists of police officers, County Health and Human Services specialists as well as psychiatric clinicians from the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT), a private nonprofit organization. The HOT is available to assist the community with homeless-related issues. Its phone number is (619) 446-1010.

While being homeless is not a crime, many kinds of public conduct are illegal and should be reported to the SDPD. These include being intoxicated, loitering, prowling, fighting, trespassing, aggressive panhandling, soliciting, urinating/defecating consuming alcoholic beverages in certain public places, camping or sleeping in parks, littering, obstructing sidewalks, disturbing the peace by loud and unreasonable noises, using offensive words, behaving in a threatening manner and more.

Citizen's Arrest

because many of the crimes involving homeless people are misdemeanors, a police officer can only arrest a person if the offense is committed in his presence. However, a person who witnesses the offense can make a citizen's arrest by doing the following:

  • Call the SDPD and provide details of the offense. Call 911 if it is an emergency, i.e., if the crime is in progress or about to happen and involves serious personal injury, property damage or property loss. Otherwise, call (619) 531-2000 or (858) 484-3154, the SDPD's non-emergency numbers.
  • When an officer arrives to take physical custody of the suspect, sign the arrest form stating that the offense was committed in your presence and that the officer is lawfully making the arrest. You must also be willing to appear and testify in Court.
  • You do not have to physically take the suspect into custody. For your safety, such action is discouraged by the SDPD.

Avoiding Problems

The following tips will help you avoid problems with homeless people:

  • Talk to the SDPD Community Relations Officer (CRO) in your area about any problems with homeless people. If warranted, file a Letter of Agency with your local Area Station.
  • You can report a homeless encampment by contacting the Environmental Services Department at (858) 694-7000. If illegal activity is related contact the police non-emergency line at (619) 531-2000.*If a crime is in progress, call 911.