Downtown gets its own DA

Last week, the Sacramento City Council gave the go-ahead to begin implementing a community prosecution program in the downtown area, but critics say the jury’s still out on what the program means for downtown’s homeless population.

The alliance forged between the Sacramento County district attorney’s office, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership and the Sacramento Police Department plans to proactively eliminate a multitude of illegal activities in the downtown area, including public intoxication, graffiti, public urination, aggressive panhandling and drug dealing. By designating a prosecutor to a particular area, the district attorney’s office gains the ability to work more closely with residents, businesses, local officials and other neighborhood groups to squelch problems.

Those watching the program’s development, however, hope that it is more than an excuse to target downtown’s homeless. Advocates for the homeless would like to see the program focus on long-term solutions for downtown’s homeless residents, rather than merely strengthening law enforcement in the area.

Tim Brown, executive director of Loaves & Fishes and former co-chair of the Sacramento County & Cities Board on Homelessness, says the city’s aggressive effort to rid downtown of homelessness for the past year has merely worked to chase the homeless population to the Richards Boulevard and American River areas.

“You’re going to pay for these people being out there one way or another,” said Brown. Whether the city plans to pay for its homeless problem through jail costs, public defenders and increased police enforcement is something Brown says remains to be seen. Instead, he points to the “10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness,” currently being reviewed by the city council and the county board of supervisors, as an alternative. The “housing first” plan focuses on providing housing and support services to 1,600 homeless Sacramentans over a 10-year period.

Rita Spillane, downtown’s new community prosecutor, worked as a community prosecutor in the Arden-Arcade area. Spillane has said she intends to work with different sectors in the community to solve problems before carting petty offenders off to jail.

John Foley, executive director of Sacramento Self Help Housing, says he hopes the district attorney’s office works to help downtown’s homeless before ticketing or arresting them.

“Until they can help us to house those folks, it’s premature to harass those people,” Foley said.

—Amanda Dyer

I see dead people

The Sacramento Coroner’s Web site (http://coroner.saccounty.net) is getting a facelift.

The county is adding new resources for families who’ve experienced a death, and it’s upgrading a curious section called “unidentified persons,” a sparse page currently featuring a couple of disparate facial sketches and one morbid clay model representing a few of the unidentified corpses in the coroner’s care.

By the end of February, Kerri Aiello, a county public-information officer, plans to update this page with the help of a Sacramento Police Department forensic artist who will provide more sketches of unidentified dead people, including their tattoos and other identifiable markings. These sketches could help the coroner solve a few mysteries.

Though the new sketches might strike the viewer as macabre, at least Sacramento isn’t going as far as Los Angeles County, which recently published a shocking display of facial photographs showing the unidentified and unclaimed. These photos are both graphic and disturbing, but they’ve helped the coroner ID a number of corpses.

According to the Los Angeles Coroner’s office (http://coroner.co.la.ca.us/htm/intro.cfm), 4,000 cases have been featured on the county’s Web site for the last six months. Since the Web site’s been up, six of the unknown individuals have been identified, and 25 “unclaimed” individuals—those without locatable family members—have been claimed.

—Chrisanne Beckner