Sierra Jenkins / @ 5 p.m. / LoCO Video Reports

(VIDEO) P.O.P. TEAM II: Dirty Needles and Mountains of Trash Have Become Perilous Problems in Eureka’s Public Places


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Our trip cruising the town with Captain Patrick O’Neill and Sergeant Rodrigo Sanchez of the Eureka Police Department’s Problem Oriented Policing team continues in this LoCO Video Report. Is you missed Part I, regarding illegal encampments, you can see it here.

Over the years an extensive homeless encampment was formed on the greenbelt along Humboldt Bay in Eureka, coined the “Devil’s Playground.” But due to the environmental degradation, crime and the city pushing for development, everyone was evicted.

So where are the homeless now? Well, most have just dispersed all over town and unfortunately public areas have turned into eyesores. Another situation being addressed by the POP team.

“There’s problems we’re not going to solve tomorrow. We’re not going to solve them next week. But if we chip away at them a little bit everyday and try to make progress everyday, eventually we’ll be able to solve a lot of them,” said O’Neill. “And at least make the quality of life better for the citizens.”

Some of the city’s best assets are featured in the charming Old Town area and along the waterfront. However, people congregate these public areas in masses with open containers of alcohol and drugs, while having their belongings scattered about, behaving inappropriately and leaving behind disasters. It’s a major problem.

City parks are also taking a hit — especially the newly designated public park located at Fourth and Q Streets.

And one of the worst is the location between T and V Streets, which has a thoroughfare running from Fifth and Sixth Streets. It’s become a dumping ground and apparently an outdoor shooting gallery.

People steal and pull recycling and trash bins to the area to give them a good rummaging, and the aftermath is hundreds of pounds of trash piled feet high. But the most disturbing reality of this whole thing is the amount of hypodermic needles that the POP Team found all over the city, especially in this area. The majority are used and uncapped, and they cover the public walkway. A pile of at least 30 was left beside an old dirty mattress that was also dragged to the site.

It’s just another red flag showing the severity of Eureka’s heroin crisis.

“Of course it’s frustrating, but it’s part of the job, unfortunately,” said O’Neill. “But the greater frustration for me is the people that we contact daily, that can get themselves out of the situation and choose not to.”

Law enforcement says the problem has escalated, and continues to reiterate that changes in legislation — like prison and jail realignment under AB 109 and felony crimes that were reduced to misdemeanors under Prop 47 — have been a handicap.

“Those have had a big impact on recalcitrant habitual offenders still being out on the street committing crimes, where people have lost their a lot of their fear of repercussions,” said Interim Chief Steve Watson. “Which is one of the reasons why you see open drug use so blatantly, people shooting up heroin right on the street corner, because with Prop 47 that’s become a misdemeanor, unless you get caught dealing it.”

The POP team also conducts investigations and collaborates with the Humboldt County Drug Task Force to find the sources that feed these addicts, and drug busts are continuously underway.

On top of that the city is doubling down on blighted and drug-ridden properties, all while working to create more recreational opportunities and implement beautification projects, in hopes of revitalizing the city. Plus citizens have joined forces for community clean-ups and multiple entities are involved with providing resources to those in need.

But still, it’s not enough. So the POP team — along with a wide range of other organizations — are going in circles, looking for better solutions.

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