Asking for Answers: Transient Troubles
A short walk in downtown Medford highlights the homeless and transient problems the city faces daily. Lieutenant Mike Budreau says officers are seeing a definite shift when it comes to this particular population.
“I've been here since the early nineties and I started out as a bike cadet, really patrolling the bike path and dealing with the homeless every day. Back then and several years after that, it was consistent with alcoholism - that was the main issue with a lot of the homeless,” Budreau says.
Budreau says the scene has completely changed. He says not only are there more transients, but he says the drug use has also changed. It’s no longer just alcohol.
"We're seeing a lot of heroin use, methamphetamine use among the homeless and that creates a much different person that we're now dealing with. There's a lot more criminality associated with that type of behavior, where before, really if they had their alcohol, they'd be happy. They'd simply be loitering in an area and pretty much want to be to themselves,” Budreau says about the difference.
That's no longer the case. Officers are seeing more aggression when they make contact.
"We're dealing with a lot more volatile confrontations with the homeless we didn't use to have. It's not uncommon for us to get into a use of force with somebody who is mentally ill, under the influence of drugs and or homeless. It's definitely a change we've seen," Budreau says.
A lot of the problems are concentrated in downtown Medford. Often, business owners call the police because someone is being disruptive or sleeping in an entryway.
“Sometimes they go into a business that's open, to use the bathroom and then they won't leave and they become disorderly when they're asked to leave so we have to come and remove them. That's a common occurrence in the early morning hours - didn't use to be like that,” Budreau says.
While the drug use has changed and increased among the population, Budreau says mental illness plays a major factor.
“About 5 years ago, we were having a 100% increase every year for calls involving mentally ill or mental health holds. So, every year it was a 100% increase, a 100% increase, and then another 100% increase, every year, for like three or four years and now it's finally stabilized," Budreau says. "But we're averaging taking one person into protective custody a day or more. So, about 400 or so times a year, we take someone into protective custody, we put them into handcuffs, not for a crime, but because they're a danger to themselves or others.”
The police department, the City of Medford, and other agencies have helped create solutions.
An exclusion ordinance in downtown Medford bans those temporarily who keep committing crimes in downtown.
There’s also a shopping cart ordinance keeping those from stealing carts and officers consistently make sweeps on the Bear Creek Greenway. Officers pull out tons of trash and cite those for illegal camping.
"Even though we take enforcement action, we clean it up, we usually issue dozens of citations during that time, but as soon as we leave, they come right back. We need to be doing that full time, we need to be patrolling that camping issue full time if we really want to have a long term effect on that because it seems to be a broken record," Budreau says.
The Medford Police Department says when it comes down to it, there is a difference between someone who is truly homeless and looking for help, versus a transient who keeps running into the police.
“Folks that are homeless and not engaging in criminal activity, maybe they're sleeping in their car somewhere, but they're not really disturbing any people, there's a lot of people like that that we don't come into contact with," he says. "We really deal with the same individuals repeatedly that are just continually causing people to call police on them, they're always engaging in criminal activity, they just have a real defiance for laws, and those are the people who are really hard to deal with.”