Complaint Oriented Policing: The new revanchist logics in the regulation of homelessness

Authors: Christopher Herring*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: homelessness, gentrification, policing, urban governance, San Francisco
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Gallier B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Through an analysis of 911 call-data and a variety of ethnographic observations I argue that “homeless crises” are not only produced by increased homelessness, but also by crises of complaints, and in San Francisco, one fueled by gentrification. I find that the largest areas of police call for homeless complaints and citations in San Francisco are not in the poorest neighborhoods or service ghettos with the highest areas of homelessness, but the areas with the greatest levels of gentrification. In contrast to the scholarly portrayals of top-down command and control zero-tolerance policing campaigns by city officials and upper brass, or those that highlight the role of officer discretion in driving the geographies and intensity of enforcement, the paper elaborates how anti-homeless enforcement is driven first and foremost from below, by citizen, organizational, and political complaints. The second part of the paper explains how police officers resolve these complaints in conflict and collaboration with a host of other street-level bureaucrats. Rather than locking up petty criminals (aggressive patrol) or pushing people into services (therapeutic policing), officers resolve complaints by displacing them spatially, temporally, or bureaucratically – forcing homeless people into new spaces for periods of time or reclassifying the “homeless problem” as the issue of another agency. The final section considers the impact of these policing practices on the survival and subjectivities of homeless individual. The paper concludes extending the theories of urban revanchism and penal populism in the city through the case of homeless policing.

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