Know Your Rights Regarding Police and People Who Are Homeless | Project HOME

Know Your Rights Regarding Police and People Who Are Homeless

 

Next Steps After Solutions Not Citations Campaign...

The Solutions Not Citations campaign was a success, however our work to protect the rights of those who are homeless and living on the streets is not yet finished. We believe that the City must remain vigilant in ensuring the dignity and rights of homeless Philadelphians are not infringed upon, especially by the police officers charged with protecting us all.

To that end, we are launching a new pilot project. The project has four goals: 
  1. to educate homeless men and women living on the streets, as well as service providers, about the rights of individuals interacting with police officers;
  2. to spread the word about recent changes in the law and procedures involving summary citations at Community Court;
  3. to collect data documenting any unwarranted police interactions with individuals experiencing street homelessness; and
  4. to provide advice and counsel to those who may have received citations from the police.
We understand that the police face many challenges in their efforts to keep all Philadelphians safe. Our goal is not to portray police officers as “the enemy,” but rather to gather information to determine if any problems exist in this area, particularly as related to enforcement of the recently amended Sidewalk Behavior Ordinance.
 
Attached you will find a sample “Know Your Rights” card designed to be given to homeless Philadelphians who have reported negative interactions with police officers, particularly citations for summary offenses. One side of the card provides information about how to behave if stopped by a police officer; the other side of the card provides information about what to do if a citation has been received. These cards can be distributed by outreach teams, day centers, community partners, or concerned citizens. You can pick-up pre-printed cards at 1515 Fairmount Ave.
 
If a homeless individual has been issued a citation, he or she should be advised to contact the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP) to report the citation. Although HAP cannot defend against the underlying criminal citation, we can ensure that no fines are imposed for missed court hearings and we can provide advice about attending Community Court. We are also working to track the citations issued to look for trends that may indicate an enforcement problem. For example, police headquarters has recently clarified that homeless individuals cannot be cited for "loitering" when they are simply panhandling. When this happens, HAP can help to ensure that these charges are dropped.
 
Also attached is a Police Interaction Witness Form. This form is designed to collect data about any negative interactions between homeless individuals and police officers. This may include the issuing of a citation, an unwarranted arrest, or any other interaction during which a homeless individual or bystander believes that a homeless person has not been treated with dignity or proper regard for their rights. As the purpose of this form is solely information gathering, anyone can complete the form. This would include the person experiencing the incident, any witness, or even a story heard second hand. The person completing the form should provide as much information as possible, but should not allow incompleteness to prevent him or her from documenting the incident. Completed forms should be sent to Meg Retz, Homeless Advocacy Project Staff Attorney, see below.
 
Thank you for agreeing to help ensure that the rights of homeless Philadelphians are safe guarded. If there are any questions or concerns about this project, contact Meg Retz, Homeless Advocacy Project Staff Attorney, mretz@philalegal.org, 215‐523‐9595 (phone) or 215‐981‐3866 (fax) or Jennine Miller, Project H.O.M.E.’s Education & Advocacy Department, 215‐232‐7272, x3042, jenninemiller@projecthome.org, 1515 Fairmount Avenue.

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