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Santa Ana Councilmember Phil Bacerra asked SAPD to arrest more people who are intoxicated in public and passed out on sidewalks. There are concerns that the arrests are not solving any city problems. In a report, SAPD logged in 954 hours of overtime between Oct. and Dec. of last year, costing the city nearly $93,000. (File photo by  Matt Masin, Orange Count Register/SCNG)
Santa Ana Councilmember Phil Bacerra asked SAPD to arrest more people who are intoxicated in public and passed out on sidewalks. There are concerns that the arrests are not solving any city problems. In a report, SAPD logged in 954 hours of overtime between Oct. and Dec. of last year, costing the city nearly $93,000. (File photo by Matt Masin, Orange Count Register/SCNG)

The Police Department continues to focus at the City Council’s request enforcement efforts on publicly intoxicated or passed out individuals, reporting 942 arrests in the last three months of 2023, with 206 of those people booked into the city jail.

, Santa Ana PD officials also reported that the efforts resulted in 954 hours of overtime between September and December, costing the city $92,832.

The City Council back in July asked the Police Department to focus on detaining people who are found passed out or intoxicated in public. Councilmember Phil Bacerra introduced the idea, saying the city needed to take action to address substance abuse issues in Santa Ana and enforce existing state laws that allow for detaining individuals who are publicly intoxicated. As people are released they are approached with resources available for finding shelter and additional support.

Since the council directed the police to focus on this issue, the initiative has cost the city more than $174,000 in officer overtime targeting public intoxication.

Between Aug. 15, when the focused enforcement began, and Sept. 15, staff reported that officers logged 374 hours of overtime, the estimated cost being $38,000. Between September and October, the department reported it spent $43,466 in overtime on the effort.

SAPD spokesperson Officer Natalie Garcia said that overtime is created so that other police services are not being compromised.

“We don’t want to lower our police services in any other areas, so we created overtime to address the public intoxication issue,” Garcia said. “It’s a benefit for community members that overtime is being used for this very prevalent issue. If we have officers specifically designated to this issue, it alleviates the work from our patrol officers working their day-to-day duties and addressing other citizens’ needs.”

Bacerra said he found it “disappointing” that the department is using overtime.

“What we’re asking them to enforce is not above and beyond what should be their regular repertoire of things to enforce. This is not a new law,” Bacerra said in an interview. “These are state laws and state law says you can’t be intoxicated to the point that you’re passed out in public.”

Bacerra said for officers to be able to address this issue and other crimes, the council should take a look at how the Police Department is funded; more specifically, he said the city should be funding more sworn officer positions because that would be more cost-effective than overtime expenses.

“We’re trying to provide law enforcement services for our community, and we’re trying to do it in the most cost-effective manner,” Bacerra said. “Once we see those positions filled, I think you’ll start to see less overtime used.”

He also raised concerns about the long hours officers might be working with the additional overtime. “We’re asking these folks to insert themselves into life-and-death situations,” he said, “and it shouldn’t be done when they are that far into a shift.”

The city needs to focus on filling the funded vacant officer positions, Bacerra said. The Police Department has 38 unfilled officer posts.

Police Chief Robert Rodriguez said overtime is used to maintain essential policing services without compromising other public safety needs.

“Regarding the issue of overtime, it’s important to clarify that while overtime may be necessary due to staffing, it primarily supplements police services rather than being the sole solution,” Rodriguez said in a text message. “Our priority is to provide uninterrupted public safety.”

The main goal of the council’s direction, Bacerra said, is to ultimately get people treatment for their substance use issues.

“When these folks are arrested and they are taken to jail, the hope is that they go, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to keep doing this,’” Bacerra said. “And then upon release, when they’re offered services, the hope is that they will say, ‘You know what? Yeah, I do need to change. I do need to seek a better life, and I need help.’ A big part of this is, will the person that’s arrested accept the services? That’s one of the biggest hurdles.”

Of the more than 900 arrests in last quarter of 2023, the Police Department reported that 59 people had accepted referrals to a shelter, and another 143 were referred to the , a homeless outreach organization, for additional support services.

Councilmember Johnathan Hernandez, who opposed the initiative when it was introduced last summer, said overtime is not just an economic issue, but one of human capacity.

“When you have an officer who is working overtime, fatigue is real,” Hernandez said in a phone interview. “And when you are having to make quick split decisions that are life-or-death, I have to take into account that the fatigue and the hours do play a factor as to why police treat us the way that they do.”

Rodriguez said there is no specific cap on the amount of overtime an officer can collect, but that the department follows federal guidelines set by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“We closely monitor overtime hours to prevent excessive fatigue and maintain our officers’ well-being while ensuring fairness and adherence to legal standards,” Rodriguez said.

Police officers should not be responding to issues of or substance use, Hernandez said.

“When we look at the report, it’s clear as day that the $90,000 that we’re paying in overtime still is not addressing the concerns that the residents are having when it comes to the topic of public intoxication and homelessness,” Hernandez said. “This is not a matter that police are experts in, this is a matter of public health. This is a matter of multiple agencies collaborating to solve the issue of homelessness together.

“Police aren’t going to arrest their way out of this problem,” he added.

The success of the initiative, Bacerra said, can be measured when looking around the neighborhood. When he looks around South Bristol Street in his council ward, for example, he said the number of publicly intoxicated individuals has reduced. If police were to stop enforcing this law, he argued activity would ramp back up.

The same can’t be said for neighborhoods surrounding the city’s jail, who Hernandez said have been negatively impacted by the arrest efforts.

“We’re seeing more people experiencing homelessness in our neighborhoods. We’re seeing more people being released from the jail related to intoxication, and we’re also seeing people who are sobering up in our backyards, in front of our lawns and our houses,” Hernandez said.

In the past, councilmembers in support of the focused enforcement have emphasized that they are not asking for unhoused folks to be targeted, but Hernandez said that oftentimes people experiencing homelessness turn to drug use as a coping mechanism.

“The lack of humanity that is being given to the people who should be afforded more from our neighbors, this is exactly why we’re in this position. There are numerous studies that we can look to on how to best respond to people experiencing homelessness,” Hernandez said. “It’s not with handcuffs and it’s not with jails. It’s with care. It’s with social services. It’s a partnership of agencies coming together to really address the root causes of why an individual is homeless.”

Hernandez said, instead, he would like to see the city further partner with organizations that can address the root causes of homelessness and drug use, such as Be Well OC, an organization that provides mental health services, including with mobile teams that meet people where they are at on the streets.

“I just think we need great experts to work with. And the challenge that we have as a city is that the infrastructure that is presently being used is coming from the Police Department,” Hernandez said. “I find the amount of money that we’re paying in overtime is a clear indication that this is not working.”

The City Council got the quarterly report on the initiative at its last meeting on March 19, but did not discuss the update during the meeting.


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