Anti-homeless rhetoric is nothing new to us. As a community organization that initially formed to counter protestors of a proposed shelter, we have seen a range from healthy skepticism of the bridge home initiative to outright bigotry. But none of our NIMBY battles could have prepared us for the disturbing content found in several Facebook groups belonging to San Fernando Valley residents. In groups created to surveil and harass homeless San Fernando Valley residents, housed neighbors mock, and even threaten violence against unhoused residents. The most alarming aspect of these groups is that they have the active involvement of LAPD officers and LAPD volunteers.
“Crimebusters of West Hills and Woodland Hills” & “Homeless Transient Encampments of our West Valley”
In 2016, Fern Peskin-White, an LAPD volunteer at the Topanga Division, began creating Facebook groups targeting homeless people in the West San Fernando Valley. As of the date of this publishing, “Crimebusters of West Hills and Woodland Hills” has 10,940 members and “Homeless Transient Encampments of our West Valley” has 3,335 members.
Screenshots from the group pages show evidence of stalking, harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse, and violence carried out by the groups’ members against homeless people. In many cases, LAPD officers post private information of homeless individuals, including their medical information and whereabouts.
The participation of LAPD officers in these groups gives tacit permission to vigilante acts. Members include: LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher, former LAPD Deputy Chief John Sherman (ret. 2018), former LAPD SLO Brent Rygh (ret. 2018), LAPD Topanga Division Sergeant Karen Rayner, LAPD Senior Lead Officer (SLO) Sean Dinse, LAPD SLO Duke Dao, LAPD SLO Daryl Scoggins, LAPD SLO Gabriel Ahedo, LAPD SLO John Catalano, LAPD SLO Kari McNamee, LAPD SLO Jose Fernandez, LAPD Officer William Jones, LAPD Topanga Police Service Representative Monica Fairbanks, and Deputy City Attorney Karine Philips.
City of LA Repeatedly Fails to Address Vigilante Groups
On August 1, 2018, a coalition of homeless advocacy organizations consisting of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), co-signed a complaint letter to the California Attorney General detailing the activities of the groups and requesting an investigation into the two groups. Emily Alpert Reyes of the LA Times reported that as of May 6, 2019, the Attorney General’s office could not confirm or deny that they were conducting an investigation.
The complaint letter also outlines the repeated failures of City government to reign in LAPD’s activity in these groups. Dozens of complaints have been made through official channels since the groups’ inception, but the City of LA has taken no meaningful action to address the vigilante groups. The most common outcome after filing a complaint is no response and no follow-up. Complaints have been made to the Topanga Community Police Station, Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Operations Division, Los Angeles Police Department’s Internal Affairs Group, LA City Council Members, and the office of Mayor Garcetti.
LAPD’s Anti-Homeless Culture Continues to Thrive
The pattern of City agencies failing to hold LAPD officers and volunteers accountable proves that this isn’t just “a few rotten apples” situation. This is a systemic problem born of the City’s dehumanization of homeless people. While on the one hand, Mayor Garcetti and City Council work to overcome NIMBY opposition to homeless shelters and housing by humanizing and urging compassion towards homeless people, at the same time, they pass anti-homeless measures and refuse to address LAPD’s involvement in anti-homeless vigilante groups. Moreover, the City of LA has rewarded LAPD’s anti-homeless enforcement with $20 million of increased funding for sweeps.
On July 26, 2019, The LA Times reported that LAPD aims to recruit 5,000 new LAPD civilian volunteers. This unprecedented expansion of a civilian volunteer force raises concerns that this would lead to more human rights violations as volunteers are spared the same level of scrutiny as LAPD officers who already routinely violate homeless people’s rights. The expansion of LAPD’s volunteer program empowers anti-homeless vigilantism as it’s become clear that the City of LA has no interest in addressing LAPD’s culture of dehumanizing homeless Angelenos.
Anti-Homeless Vigilante Facebook Groups Continue to Harm People Experiencing Homelessness
As of this writing, these Facebook groups continue to target homeless people with the tacit approval of LAPD. The screenshots speak for themselves.
Contact your City Council Member and Mayor Garcetti to demand that they do everything in their power to immediately halt the vigilante activities by these groups. Attend the Los Angeles Police Commission Meetings every Tuesday, 9:30am at 100 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012 and speak out for homeless Angelenos.