Operation Outreach

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

SF Pays No Heed to Fresno Class Action Lawsuit

by Molly Glasgow/Coalition on Homelessness

On May 12 of this year, a Federal judge ruled that by immediately seizing and destroying the personal possessions of the city's homeless residents, the City of Fresno, California violated the Constitutional right of every person to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Fresno and Department of Transportation officials had violated the rights of homeless people by "cleaning up" tent cities and destroying personal belongings. US District Judge Oliver W. Wagner also gave preliminary approval for $2.35 million to be awarded to hundreds of Fresno residents involved in the class action lawsuit Kincaid v. Fresno on June 12. That decision was finalized on Friday, July 25. The homeless plaintiffs were represented by a team of attorneys from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the law firm Heller Ehrman LLP.

ACLU-NC staff attorney Michael Risher warned, "The court's ruling and the settlement should send a strong message to other cities throughout our country that if they violate the rights of their most vulnerable residents, they will be held accountable." He continued, "The ruling makes it clear that our constitution protects the rights of everybody, rich or poor."

Officials in the City of San Diego are reportedly, "on pins and needles" in light of this decision, according to San Diego Sheriff's Department Sgt. Marco Garmo, but San Francisco officials have shown no such signs.

Reports of property seizures are rising due to an increase in the harassment of poor and homeless people by the police and other City departments. The officers of SFPD's "Operation Outreach", an enforcement effort focused on poor and homeless people, meet weekly with the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Mayor's Homeless Outreach Team, and other City government and business representatives to coordinate their enforcement effort. They are focusing on the SoMa, Tenderloin, and Union Square areas by increasing foot patrols, issuing a greater number of "quality of life" citations, and increasing property seizures in those areas. This crack-down has begun at the same time the Board of Supervisors passed a budget that includes funding for a Community Justice Center which will potentially prosecute and convict people for "quality of life" crimes.

"This is an orchestrated effort to clear poor and homeless people out of San Francisco. This police crack-down is not a coincidence. The City is furthering the victimization of the Low- and No-Income community, merely for its members' economic status and visible presence. The seizure and destruction of people's property is just one method they use to do that. It is a clearly illegal activity that the police are engaged in. Funny thing" said Karl Start, with the Civil Rights Project of the Coalition on Homelessness.

The recent upsurge of police harassment clearly violates department policy. In December of 2006, the SFPD released a bulletin that states, "Members of the Department are obligated to treat all persons equally, regardless of their economic or living conditions.
The homeless enjoy the same legal and individual rights afforded to others. Members shall at all times respect these rights."

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights has sent a letter to the San Francisco Police Department, Department of Public Works, and Recreation and Park Department requesting copies of all protocols, policies, and procedures regarding property rights, confiscation, claim procedures, and disposition of property.

The Civil Rights Project of the Coalition on Homelessness is documenting and compiling reports of property seizures occurring throughout the city of San Francisco.

What You Should Know About Your Property Rights

Try to never leave your property unattended. Property is "attended" when you are with your belongings or someone is watching them for you. If you absolutely must leave your property temporarily unattended, try to leave it neat, well organized, and ideally I.D. tagged and/or labeled as yours showing that it is not abandoned.

Intentionally abandoned property can legally be seized by the city so it is important to make it clear that your personal property is not abandoned. According to Barron's Law Dictionary, "A subsequent finder of property not legally abandoned must make reasonable effort to restore it to the true owner and must relinquish it to him upon demand."

If your shopping cart is marked as being owned by a store, even if you are with it, the city may legally seize it. However, you have the right to remove all your belongings from the cart.

What to Do If the City Takes Your Property

Record all details you can remember including location, time of day, officer names or badge numbers, what was said, any witnesses, and exactly what was taken. Listing belongings by item will make it easier to claim later. If you were not present at the time of seizure ask anyone who may have seen what happened and ask for their contact info.

According to State and Local laws, property must be held for at least 90 days after it is seized.

Property taken from public streets and sidewalks was most likely taken by the Department of Public Works (DPW). To recover your personal property, go to their office at 2323 Cesar Chavez St. The gate is on the Kansas St. side at Marin St. Call 695-2134 for days and hours of access.

If your property has been seized by the police, contact the SFPD Property Control Division at 553-1377.

Property taken from parks may be held at the Recreation and Park Department’s storage facility on Stanyan St near the Kezar Pavilion. You can contact the Rec and Park Department at 831-2700 or at their main administrative office at 501 Stanyan St. for more information.

If your personal property was confiscated by a city employee and not returned, if your property was damaged, or if personal property is still missing, you should file an administrative claim with the San Francisco Controllers Office. If your claim is rejected, you can file against the city in small claims court. Receipts can be helpful, but are not required.

If you had a negative encounter with SFPD, including harassment, false accusations, or unwarranted property confiscation, you can file a complaint with the Office of Citizen Complaints. Its purpose is to investigate complaints against San Francisco police officers and is staffed by civilians who have never served as officers.



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