The Orange County Sheriff’s Department began patrolling Friday along the Santa Ana River as part of a new plan to cut down on crime in and around the large homeless camps there.
Deputies appeared to be mostly observing and collecting information from people living along the river in order to pass their information on to social service providers.
“They were very nice,” Serena Welch, 56, said of the deputies who took down her information. Welch carried her dog in a backpack as she waited to use the public bathroom just north of Ketella Avenue.
She said the sheriff’s new full-time patrols of the area could be a good thing “as long as no harassment starts.”
"It makes you uncomfortable,” she added.
Welch has lived by the river for four of the five years she’s been homeless. She says she’s never been a victim a violent crime there. But a man was stabbed nearby on Sept. 7. The Orange Police Department has yet to release information about the victim. But a 47-year-old transient man was arrested on suspicion of perpetrating the stabbing, which wasn’t fatal, according to the Orange County Register.
Officials from the county and cities bordering the river have come under increasing fire from local residents and business owners for their largely hands-off approach to the homeless encampments along the Santa Ana River. More than 400 people live along a 2-mile stretch of the river behind Angel Stadium, according to a recent survey, with perhaps hundreds more living along other sections.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted on Sept. 12 to direct the sheriff’s department to patrol the river seven days a week in order to address concerns of crime in the homeless encampments and adjacent neighborhoods.
The sheriff has formed a task force with the police departments of Anaheim, Orange, Fountain Valley and Santa Ana to carry out the patrols.
Sheriff’s department spokesman Ray Grangoff said deputies were focusing mainly "on outreach and assessing the situation” on the first day of the patrols.
County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said before the vote that he hoped the increased presence of law enforcement would scare off criminals camped out by the river.
“I’m convinced that a large criminal element will vacate the riverbed just with our statement here,” he said from the dais.
On Tuesday, Anaheim City Council declared a state of emergency because of the homeless encampments.
South of Angel Stadium, the Park Royale Mobile Home Park has suffered a wave of crime since a large homeless encampment sprung up along the fence just across the street, along the Santa Ana River bike path.
Tim Paarni, who manages and lives in the mobile home park, said the stepped-up law enforcement presence was past due. He said some residents of the mobile home park had begun to move out because of increased crime and trespassing by homeless campers.
“If we don’t get help, we’re going to lose everything,” he said.
The county’s ultimate goal is to clear out the riverside homeless encampments entirely and find permanent housing or shelter beds for the residents.