Police meet with homeless about crime

Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 11:41 p.m.
Gainesville Police and members of the city's homeless community met Thursday night at the city's Downtown Community Plaza for what some described as a "crime watch" meeting.
Handing out fliers to the group of about 40 people, officers spoke to those gathered about an increase in crime in the downtown area and ways the homeless could protect themselves and help police catch offenders.
Police and some in the homeless community said the meeting is an example of an improved relationship with law enforcement.
Several years ago, officers would more likely have been removing the city's homeless from illegal campsites rather than listening to reports about complaints and problems, Lt. Lonnie Scott said.
Efforts from both sides led to events like Thursday's gathering, said David Swanson, 63, who said he was a homeless advocate.
Lt. Ed Book spoke to the group about an increase in violent crime and theft.
"We've had too much down here in the downtown area," he said.
"We would like you to help us police this downtown plaza," the lieutenant also said later in the meeting, which lasted about an hour.
Community Relations Coordinator Sadie Darnell, who retired as a police captain last year, told the group that a review of police reports from January 2004 through August 2005 showed there were 117 homeless victims.
"We're asking you to be good citizens with us," Darnell said. "You've got to look out for each other. Look out for one another and know you can trust police."
Describing crime reports from the area, Book mentioned last month's attack on local activist Doris Bardon, 86, as she was heading to the plaza, as well as reports of theft by the homeless.
He thanked members of the city's homeless population who, he said, helped provide a detective with information that led to the arrest of a man accused of attacking Bardon.
Officers also asked those gathered to take notice of new people among them, possibly in the area taking refuge from colder weather up north.
Russ Welch, 54, who described himself as both an advocate and member of the homeless community, said the meeting helped educate the group that it can work with police.
Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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