WEST SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Police in West Sacramento are revving up new efforts to fight the homeless crisis near the river.
The city has purchased an off-road vehicle to find hidden homeless camps that are hard to access.
“We can take services out to the individuals in these illegal camps and hopefully get them out of that environment and get them into housing,” said Sgt. Roger Kinney, West Sacramento Police Department. “Not even a large 4-wheel drive vehicle can get in there, but this UTV, it can get where we need to go.”
He’s talking about homeless camps near the Sacramento River that police have been trying to clean up. Kinney said it’s much easier to do with a four-wheel drive, off-road utility terrain vehicle at their fingertips.
“What would take us a day sometimes a day and a half to check some of these areas for illegal camps, we’re doing it in about 2 hours now,” he said.
There are six officers specifically trained to drive the UTV, and they've been taking it out every other day. With two seats in front and two in the back, there's room for homeless coordinator Mark Sawyer to ride along.
"I can reach more people and get out and provide more ongoing support at a much quicker rate,” Sawyer said.
It's support that includes finding medical services, jobs and housing for the dozens of homeless people in West Sacramento.
“It actually saves us money probably in the long run because it's allowing us to get out and be more efficient with our time," Sawyer said. "Most people think it's cool. It is cool!"
Erin Leahy, who lives on the streets near the river, told CBS13 she doesn't think providing services for the homeless is the top priority for the officers.
"I think they're just driving up and down the river, probably to see who's camped there just to tell them to leave,” she said.
But Kinney told CBS13 the officers are committed to finding help for the homeless first and making an arrest is the last resort.
"We just started, but we'll see what this does for us in the next couple years,” Kinney said. “We're excited!"