PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - People who have experienced homelessness accuse Phoenix police of unlawfully trashing their belongings. Fund for Empowerment, a social action group that encourages individuals experiencing homelessness to advocate for change, hopes the Department of Justice investigation into Phoenix Police practices will improve the way officers interact with residents living on the streets. “If we need to survive, it’s gone by the police,” says resident Frank Urban. “That’s basically strong-arm robbery.”
Urban currently lives in transitional housing with his friend Faith Kearns. Both say officers took their sleeping bags and essential documents like IDs when they were living in Sunnyslope. “When they do the sweeps, they chase everybody out,” says Kearns. “If you’re not out with your stuff when they say get out with your stuff, they’ll have you leave it behind.”
The DOJ launched a civil rights probe into Phoenix Police earlier this month. The investigation will have a wide scope examining officer use of force and how police treat people experiencing homelessness, protestors, and people with disabilities.
Phoenix Police would not comment on the investigation Thursday, citing the ongoing DOJ review, but Chief Jeri Williams has said she welcomes the investigation.
Advocates like Elizabeth Venable with Fund for Empowerment have long criticized measures criminalizing homelessness. Venerable says the unhoused “get their rights trampled on” and enforcement of laws against trespassing and camping don’t help people get back on their feet. Venerable says even minor infractions “can keep them from achieving housing or employment.”
Urban and Kearns say Phoenix police should undergo training to improve outcomes with individuals who have mental illness or drug addiction. They. “Not all of the homeless re robbers, thieves, murderers, and drug dealers,” says Urban. “A lot of them are just people who are down on their luck. They couldn’t pay their rent, they couldn’t pay a bill.”