Police Aren't The Problem

From Pete Tannen


The Sarasota Police Department works hard—and spends a huge amount of time dealing with homeless problems in Sarasota. But you have to remember that our police are not social workers. They are not trained to take care of all the physical and mental illness problems they encounter every night. They do the best they can under really stressful conditions.

Yet some people blame them for “not controlling” the growing homeless population, which is not fair to them. Nor does it make sense to blame the ACLU for our homeless problems, which people have also done.

The ACLU does one job and one job only: we protect the constitutional rights of every American. You, your family and the homeless person leaning against that tree all have the same constitutional rights. So if you or that homeless woman over there are told to stop loitering in Five Points park and move along, we’ll defend both of you. Standing in a public park is not a crime and it’s not trespassing.

Of course, if a homeless person breaks the law, he or she should be warned, ticketed or arrested if that’s required to protect the public. And the same goes for you. That’s what the law is all about. That’s the job we hire our police to do.

OK, so how do we solve this decades-old homeless problem in Sarasota? Who should we all get mad at?

Get mad at the only people who have the power to fix it: our City Commissioners. Our City Manager. Our County Commissioners.

They have argued for years about the best way to help our homeless.

Problem is, they can’t even agree on where to start. One side wants to put homeless people into their own houses or apartments immediately. The other side wants to build a big shelter. The common sense position is simple: try something. Do something. Take a chance.  If it doesn’t work, then try something else.

So don’t get mad at the Sarasota Police Department for trying their best in often impossible situations. They have become the city’s primary tool for “solving” the homeless problem, simply because nobody can agree to try any other proven solutions.

And don’t get mad at the ACLU for protecting everyone’s rights. We keep an eye on our local government to make sure they don’t pass laws that are clearly unconstitutional. Those laws don’t do a thing to help the homeless, place a huge burden on the police and are usually thrown out by the courts.

It’s way past time for our elected officials to stop yelling at each other, start talking respectfully to each other and actually take some action.

That’s why we voted for them, isn’t it?

Pete Tannen is president of the Sarasota Chapter of the ACLU.

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