Rochester Police Chief Calls for No Camping Rule to Combat Homeless Encampments
No action was taken, however elected officials were briefed on the city’s process for addressing homelessness and how the issue is straining resources dedicated to solving the problem. One of items that came up during the session was a 2014 resolution passed by the city council that allowed police officers to cite individuals on city-owned natural areas after hours for trespassing.
Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin described homelessness in Rochester and in communities across the country as a growing, complex problem. He shared Rochester Police Department data that projects officer incidents with people experiencing homelessness, trespassing citations issued and arrests made will increase this year compared to 2022 and 2021.
While acknowledging there’s not a “magical solution” to combat homelessness, Franklin said clarifying the 2014 resolution would help incentivize homeless people to seek housing and resources and services to help.
“I do believe and I do support a no camping ordinance alongside a robust offering of services and resources is an approach this city should try,” Franklin said.
He said the City of Takoma, Washington recently implemented a no camping ban and the City of Austin, Texas just reintroduced their camping ban after finding repealing it did not work. Franklin also cited action the city council took in 2018 preventing people from lodging within the city’s skyway system.
He shared pictures of the skyways before and after council members passed the rule, arguing the rule was successful in ending the problem in the skyways. Franklin told the council clarifying the ordinance would give police officers more teeth when all other options for connecting an unsheltered person to housing resources have been exhausted.
Franklin said the police department is moving school resource officers to downtown beat patrols while schools are out for the summer. The move is part of what's being dubbed as the Downtown Rochester Summer Safe Zone Initiative and involves 1,100 patrol hours with one officer walking the beat from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. It also includes a partnership with Best Security to patrol the city's parking ramps.
An ordinance is in place that prohibits anyone from being in the city's parks after hours, however a no camping ordinance would allow law enforcement to crack down on anyone setting up an encampment during daytime hours. Right now only park rules, not a city ordinance, prohibits encampment in parks.