A program developed by the San Diego police department to curb alcohol abuse among the city's homeless population is starting to show dramatic results. It is also piquing the interest of other cities struggling to deal with a revolving door of homeless arrests.
San Diego's Serial Inebriate Program, developed in 2000, links courts, police and sheriff's departments, hospitals and non-profit social services organizations to provide food, shelter and rehabilitative care to homeless persons who are repeatedly arrested for drunkenness. "The officers were aware that they were consistently re-arresting the same people for the same things," says San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne. "What we needed was a system that provides long-term care and an incentive to refrain from using alcohol," he says.
Under SIP, if a person is picked up three times within a short time frame, he or she can choose to serve jail time or enter SIP. Sixty percent choose to enter the program. According to the city, SIP has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in court costs, emergency room expenses, jail costs and police labor. One study of the program found that total arrests are down 33 percent; among SIP clients, repeat arrests are down 25 percent.
The success of the program has prompted other cities to look into similar partnerships. Santa Cruz has put a SIP in place, and Las Vegas public officials met with San Diego police officers in February to discuss implementing a similar program there. "We're doing what we're supposed to be doing," says Landsdowne, "which is getting people off the street and back on their feet."