SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — San Jose police are starting up regular patrols of the creeks and rivers in the city to fight crime and bring enforcement to an area that has often been a lawless part of the city.
Police say they will not be targeting or sweeping homeless camps but will be looking for violations.
“We’re looking for on-view violations the officers may find, outstanding felony warrants, stolen vehicles and illegal weapons,” said Lt. Elle Washburn of the SJPD Metro Unit.
A KPIX 5 camera was rolling recently when a fight broke out between two homeless men along Coyote Creek at Santa Clara Street.
One of the men pulled a knife and brandished it at the other man. The confrontation went on for several minutes, fortunately without bloodshed. Several homeless people watched, but no one called police.
“They take care of it themselves,” said Pastor Scott Wagers of CHAM Deliverance Ministries. “That’s the law of the streets. That’s why they call the jungle the jungle.”
Pastor Wagers ministers to the homeless. He said the new pilot program that will – for the first time in years – send police officers down into the creeks for regular patrols could make life safer for homeless people.
“You have issues of drug abuse and mental illness,” said Wagers. “There’s people who don’t want others in their camp, people coming in from the outside and then it can be really tense. This is where the police could be really helpful.”
The police patrols are in cooperation with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is paying for $200,000 in police overtime to help fund the program. District officials say workers or clean-up crews often feel threatened when entering the waterways because of the number of people living there.
“We’re going to be focusing on the crime and not the person,” said Washburn.
“It would be good because there are a lot of girls here,” said Elizabeth Pina, who has lived in Coyote Creek for four years.
But others say they’re afraid police will violate their rights.
“By going into people’s dwellings, their tents or whatever,” said Benny Molina, who also lives in Coyote Creek. “They announce then just unzip and go right in. That’s an invasion of privacy, or an illegal search.”
Police say will conduct searches of homeless camps as they would any other residence by getting a search warrant.
Officers patrolling the creeks and rivers will also be equipped with first aid and equipment to treat people for drug overdoses.