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Bay Watch

April 02 2010
Police on horseback or in sports vehicles round up Venice Beach rough sleepers

In the home of film stars and stuntmen, authorities have been taking more dramatic measures to combat homelessness.

Almost 50 people were arrested by police on horseback or on sports vehicles in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California. Many of those picked up in the operation were homeless, according to local media and were arrested on warrant or for felony violations, which in US law refers to a crime which is punishable by more than one year in prison.

The sweep was part of an effort to address a recent spike in crime and a rise in the number of rough sleepers on the beach after it closes at midnight, Los Angeles Police Department officials said.

The events were alleged to have taken place on 12 February, according to reports in the LA Times.

The police asked teams of social workers, counsellors and religious representatives, including priests, to meet the people who had been arrested and inform them about available social services, including drug recovery schemes, in the city.

The measures are similar to those adopted closer to home, where Pavement readers in London have reported police wake-ups and checks, followed up by homeless centre workers.

Though without horses and beach buggies, Operation Poncho in London has continued to cause controversy both within the rough sleeping community and with human rights groups. But in California, the authorities reported that those who were arrested under the Venice Beach sweep were cooperative.

Sergeant Jeff Merlo, of the LAPD, told the LA Times: "They could go back to the beach, but we're hoping they'll take our offers for services." As with many official schemes, this seemed to be more an exercise in 'being seen' to be doing something, rather than an effective solution to a problem.

Police colleague Sergeant Kevin Lowe added: "They handed out pamphlets of information on where to try and get shelter, gave them medical attention, gave them information to try and help them with being homeless. A lot of them don't take our advice, but at least we offer it."