Cheyenne PD's suggestion regarding panhandler sparks firestorm of debate

By Joe Vargas

Problems related to homelessness are a national issue and not just confined to urban areas or larger suburbs. Across the country, police departments are caught in the crossfire between those who want safer, more livable communities and those who want to take a more victim approach when dealing with homeless issues.

Recently, the Cheyenne Police Department in Wyoming arrested a person for public intoxication. To further public understanding of the problems its officers encounter, the department posted on Facebook a picture of the sign the person was holding as well as the $234.94 he had raised in just a matter of hours.

Cheyenne Police Department Facebook posting

The department simply asked the public to consider donating to a local shelter rather than enabling someone’s addictive behavior.

The posting set off a firestorm of debate dealing with everything from civil liberties to “officers have better things to do” than arrest people for public drunkenness.

While granted an informal count showed more comments supporting the department’s actions, there were enough negative comments to take notice.

The department responded with some clarifications. I’ll paraphrase here.

The Cheyenne PD posting required some clarifications as to what happened and the agency’s intent. Photo from Cheyenne PD Facebook page

No, we don’t just arrest drunks just because. They do provide treatment options and when they can’t even protect themselves it is in their best interest to sober up in jail. I might add no officer really wants to arrest a transient drunk. It’s a lot of work and often not pleasant.

The person was arrested for not only being drunk but urinating in public and being unwilling to obey commands. Also, he was a frequent customer, having been arrested multiple times over the years.

No, they didn’t just take his money. It was inventoried and given back to him.

Yes, we want to help people and have counselors to help, but when all else fails people should go to jail for their own and the public’s safety.

The post has generated nearly 8,000 comments and more than 46,000 shares.

The incident illustrates how problems related to homelessness and substance abuse have no easy answers and how police agencies are stuck in the middle.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.