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Editorial: Homeless people are dumped all the time — Burbank police just got caught

A man on the ground next to a police vehicle
Surveillance video provided by City Council President Paul Krekorian’s office shows an unhoused man being dropped off in Los Angeles by Burbank police officers.
(Courtesy of Paul Krekorian)
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Do cops leave people lying on the sidewalk?

That was the question a member of Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian’s staff heard from a security guard when she walked into the North Hollywood district office Thursday.

The reason for the query soon became clear. The guard showed her security-camera video of a Burbank Police Department vehicle pulling up to the curb outside Krekorian’s office on Lankershim Boulevard earlier that morning. In the footage, the officers can be seen getting out and opening a passenger-side door for a man in bare feet, dressed in a loose shirt and pants, who climbs out. Before the squad car drives away, the man rubs his face, staggers to his knees and puts his head down on the pavement. Then he lies face-down on the sidewalk.

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So the answer, appallingly, is yes: Some cops leave people — in this case, a homeless man — lying on the sidewalk and drive off.

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This kind of action — or inaction — is despicable. But it’s not unheard of. Anecdotes abound of neighboring cities dropping off homeless people in Los Angeles — as Krekorian noted in a letter he wrote to Burbank Mayor Nick Schultz, calling it “inhumane and inexcusable for any neighboring jurisdiction to simply remove unhoused people from their streets and dump them on ours.” Krekorian has asked the L.A. city attorney, the L.A. County district attorney and the state attorney general to investigate.

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The Burbank Police Department says it has started an investigation as well, though it also released an apparent justification for the incident. The department says two officers responded to a call about the man being naked at a bus stop near Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

They persuaded him to put his clothes on and offered to drop him off somewhere. He asked to be taken to the Sunland/Tujunga area, but, according to the police department’s statement, “ultimately agreed to be transported to the Metro Red Line in North Hollywood.” The officers stopped a couple of blocks short of the train station when the man asked to get out to get coffee.

The Burbank Police Department wouldn’t say if it had a protocol for calls involving homeless people in distress. But the Los Angeles Police Department does, according to Capt. Kelly Muniz. LAPD officers and dispatchers assess these situations on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes a SMART team — which has a police officer and mental health clinician — will be dispatched. Other times, an unarmed team of mental health professionals who are part of the CIRCLE program, which operates out of the mayor’s Office of Community Safety, is called.

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Krekorian’s staff said they searched for the man and found him nearby that afternoon. He told them that he went to Providence St. Joseph for an injury to his leg but was kicked out for being unruly. He had no money or wallet. Krekorian’s staff called the L.A. Fire Department, and he was taken to Providence St. Joseph. Since then, a spokesman for Krekorian said, the staff has tried to keep track of him.

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Citing federal healthcare privacy laws, Patricia Aidem, a spokesperson for Providence, would not say whether the man was ever at the hospital. However, she said, “we do not ask patients to leave the hospital.” She noted that every Providence emergency department in Southern California has a staff member assigned to help homeless patients connect to local resources and provide them with clean clothing and shoes.

So all we know for sure about this man was that he was offloaded onto a sidewalk by Burbank police officers.

But the real outrage is that while this case came to our attention because it happened in front of the City Council president’s district office, every unsheltered person languishing on a sidewalk or curb or park has been dumped in some way — if not by a cop or a hospital, then by a system so flawed that housing is beyond reach and social services are insufficient.

Being homeless in L.A. means constantly moving from one place to another — by a police officer or because of one of the many “anti-camping” signs posted around the city’s parks, schools and underpasses.

It may have been bad luck for the Burbank Police Department that this man was dropped off in front of Krekorian’s district office, but it was perhaps the best luck this man could have had. A staff of city officials immediately started helping him, and it kicked off a discussion about the lack of resources available for homeless people.

If the police had let him off somewhere else, maybe no one would have noticed — as they fail to notice the thousands of people living on the streets right in front of them every day.

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