San Francisco courts stop issuing warrants for “quality of life” infractions

Judges in San Francisco no longer issue warrants for unpaid fines or failure to appear in court when the underlying infraction is a so-called quality of life crime like loitering, sleeping in a park, or urinating in public.  The courts characterize the change as a nod to the reality of the city’s homeless population: many of those cited simply lack the means to pay fines, and jail time is not considered a constructive punishment.

The decision has been criticized by many public officials:

The mayor’s office told local newspapers that judges were shirking their duty and throwing away opportunities to help the homeless.

San Francisco Police Officers Association President Martin Halloran said the court was sending a bad message.

“We get thousands upon thousands of calls a year about quality-of-life concerns by the residents of this city,” he said. “With no consequence now, with none whatsoever, there’s no reason why anyone has to obey the law.”

Cities have long struggled to thread the needle between public health and safety on the one hand, and the humane treatment of the homeless on the other.  It will be interesting to see the effects of the approach taken here.

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