Church Vandalism Calms, Sheriff Alters Trespassing Citation Process
While it took close to $30,000 in security equipment and more than two years of anguish, Celebration Church officials report the vandalism and drug-related crime by area homeless individuals on its property are quieting down, and the church has a new agreement with the local sheriff’s department giving officers full authority to issue citations for trespassing on the property to further mitigate the issues.
Celebration Church Senior Pastor Mike Fraga said, following an article in this publication in April detailing the ongoing concerns the church and adjacent preschool were having with vagrants and crime, a representative from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department called him to offer information about a new program that essentially gives the sheriff’s department authority to cite individuals for trespassing on his property.
Previously, the onus was on the property owner to call the Sheriff’s department for each incident, something Fraga had been doing when the trouble began, only to get frustrated and eventually take matters into his own hands. Now patrolling officers can cite individuals for trespassing on his property without Fraga’s consent or presence, ostensibly eliminating the often frustrating process of having offenders leave the scene long-before officers arrive.
“I got a call from someone at the Sheriff’s department and it was very beneficial,” Fraga Said. “They sent me a document to sign that essentially gives officers the authority to cite anyone they see trespassing on our property. That is new, and I think it’s going to be a great addition to what we have done on our own, which unfortunately cost close to $30,000.”
The new citation agreements are not a permanent solution to homelessness and related crime, but they give officers more authority to step in. According to Lieutenant Todd Henry, North Division operations commander with the Sheriff’s department, an offender must be issued as many as 10 trespassing citations before receiving a stay-away order, the next step toward arrest.
“You have to understand how difficult it can be to deal with chronic offenders like this,” Henry said, adding that the church has been on his division’s radar for some time, despite any perceived lack of tangible progress.
Henry said officers patrolled the church and nearby area 27 times unsolicited between October 2015 and November of 2016, while only four other visits stemmed from 911 calls from the church, he said. Admittedly, Fraga has said he stopped calling for support out of frustration and, instead, installed video cameras and is nearing completion of a rod iron fence around the church perimeter, all of which have cost the small congregation roughly $30,000.
“Things are better, but there are still a ton of homeless people in the park every day,” Fraga said.
According to Henry, the swelling homeless population is a significant concern. Roughly 10 percent of calls for service to his division alone, including to the park on North Avenue across the street from the church, are connected to homelessness issues and related crime. He added that there are many so-called “hot spots” around the county where demand for help simply outpaces the recourses available.
“We have a very high demand and very limited resources,” Henry said, adding that the county’s Chronic Nuisance Offender Program is working, albeit at times slowly, to mitigate some of what he called ‘quality of life’ crimes. He added that the program alone is inadequate, and that the department’s reach and authority are limited.
“They (the homeless) antagonize, we come out and often they’ve wandered off again before we get there,” Henry said. “I know people are frustrated, but we are dealing with this new dynamic of growing homelessness. We can’t just arrest our way out of the situation.”