During the year 2011, the Grand Junction Police Department (GJPD) of Grand Junction, Colorado, was asked to look into creating a plan to relocate around 500 homeless persons within its operating area by 2023. This ten year plan was to be implemented starting 2013 in light of an 11 percent increase (KJCT, 2012) and create safe places for the homeless and transients which occupied areas near the Colorado River and other public areas throughout city limits. The first step that the GJPD took was to create a Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) and start building relationships with the local homeless persons.
As the HOT team started to get to know some the locals they found that there were camps settled along the river near the train yard, and that some of the camps had been there for much longer than they had thought. The rivers bends were littered with debris and, although the sites were unable to be seen from the roadways, some people and business owners started to complain about the “unsightly trash” and pressure started to build on the city council members. Although Police Chief John Camper had modeled the HOT team after a successful program in Colorado Springs he had not expected for such a blowback from the local community to the city council (Sullivan, 2012).
As business owners started hearing about the HOT team and what its proposed goals were they started to voice more opposition to the local homeless and increased the amount of time taken up during the city council meetings. This added pressure then turned from the elected city council members to the Police Chief. The Chief had no other option than to give into the demands of the city council and move away from the proposed 10 year plan in an attempt to ratify what the local populous wanted, a cleaner river basin and fewer if any homeless persons visible. The HOT team then set out to remove or evict those who lived along the river.
“The evections came without warning. Notices were stapled to the peoples tents, and when the day came to have everything out, some of the Police Officers slashed the tents clean through with knifes, leaving only shards of fabric.” Eric Niederkruger said while talking to one of the local groups about the differences between what is seen on the media and what actions actually took place (Personal correspondence with Eric Niederkruger).
Although the actions of the officers in the HOT team and other supporting officers were not direct reflections of the police chief himself, as the pressure built on the organization the set plans went out the window. Business owners put pressure on the city council to “clean up the town” only after the initial phase of the ten year plan was already set into motion but that pressure boiled over. The Police Chief was then put into a situation where the pressure from the elected body that governed his jurisdiction influenced his decision making and causing what some people would consider an unethical course of events; the destruction of personal property by those sworn to uphold the law. When pressure can be put on someone with decision making opportunity there is a chance of unethical behavior, even if the victims are victims already.
KJCT. Dec 11, 2012. KJCT News 8. Colorado homeless numbers increase, local shelters not surprised. Retrieved from http://www.kjct8.com/news/Colorado-homeless-numbers-increase-local-shelter-not-surprised/-/163152/17740960/-/y8ivyqz/-/index.html
S. Sullivan. May 25, 2012. Grand Junction Free Press. HOT pursuit: GJPD’s Homeless Outreach Team promotes rehabilitation, understanding. Retrieved from http://www.gjfreepress.com/article/20120525/COMMUNITY_NEWS/120529960