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The Vandwellers Meet the Police Chief: Relearning Sad Facts

by Robert Norse (rnorse3 [at]
Alice Kuhl, a mother of 3 who lives in her RV in Santa Cruz, asked SCPD Chief of police Andy Mills some hard questions last week. Kuhl challenged what she termed harassment by hostile homeowners and SCPD's vehicle abatement enforcer Joe Haebe. She noted lack of support from Mills SCPD complaints line and sought assurance from Mills. She got none.
Some weeks ago, Kuhl came to a HUFF meeting with a flyer. One side of it was a hostile and inaccurate flyer urging her to move her vehicle. The other was her response. After meeting with HUFF and Conscience and Action, she agreed to speak publicly with Chief Mills--this happened on Thursday January 10th.

We met to encourage RV dwellers to meet, share stories, and gain solidarity with each other. And at the same time to invite Mills to address real concerns--if he so chose. See
"Clarifying RV Dwellers' Rights in Santa Cruz " at .

Most of the meeting was videoed by Salinas Union of the Homeless activist Wes White and is posted at .

Several RV dwellers and numerous reporters videoing covered the exchange in front of the SCPD police station.

Particularly at issue for Alicia Kuhl and other houseless folks was harassment actions by enforcement officers like Joe Haebe ignoring their right to park on public streets for 72 hours unmolested. She asked Mills to instruct his officers to respect that 72-hour window, which, she and other vandwellers said, they took care to not overstay.

Mills insisted he had a responsibility to investigate all complaints and praised Haebe's work in "tagging and towing".

See January 9th "Officer of the Month Awarded to Joe Haebe" " Over the past year, Joe has fielded hundreds of calls, tagged more than 2,000 vehicles for abatement, and towed 291 vehicles."

Mills did not respond to requests that he instruct officers not to "take the side" of the homeowner, and to view repeated "get this vehicle out of my neighborhood" style calls, skeptically.

The general brunt of the questioning was a futile effort to persuade Mills to direct his officers to respect the 72-hour law. Not to seek out minor violations (like cracked windshield, bald tire) as a "spur" to getting vehicles to immediately move to placate housed vigilantes nearby short of the 72-hour period allowed.

Mills needs to require officers to limit themselves to determining if a vehicle has overstayed 72-hours (which he said police can do through an undisclosed system).

Kuhl claimed earlier that she was obstructed in her attempt to determine the identity of those complaining about her vehicle and the specifics of their complaints. She also suggested that her vehicle was being targeted. She questioned Haebe's enthusiasm in threatening vehicles with ticketing and suggested earlier it seemed to indicate an anti-homeless bias.

Vandweller Veronica Crow noted the appearance all over town of "permit parking only" signs that ban parking at night without a permit--a specifically anti-homeless provision.

Is Mills explicitly advising callers complaining that vehicles have a right to be there for 72 hours? Are his cops notifying them that filing a false police report is a misdemeanor? Is he looking into the claims that his "go to" guy Haebe is engaging in "hunting expeditions"?

Mills sympathized that those in vehicles are only going to face street homelessness if his cops vigorously persecute vehicles at the instigation of neighbors. However he explicitly refused to offer a change in any policies, some of which are discretionary.

He may agree that police have higher priorities that removing them because of the aesthetic preferences or unfounded fears of residents. But if he refuses to act to rein in those abuses, the buck stops with him.

Other issues raised were the crying need for a carpark. Mills sympathized but declined to offer any public advocacy. He also suggested folks leave town and go to campgrounds (costly) and ask churches and businesses for parking space (largely unsuccessful in the past).

His general response was "our job is to enforce the law" and "take your concerns to the City Council."

Numerous reporters were at the conference taking notes, audioing, and videoing.

Jessica York of the Sentinel was there for some time but the Sentinel wrote nothing. She told Kuhl she'd contact her for follow-up...but never did.

I did comment at length as I played the full audio of the encounter on my Sunday radio show at (25 minutes into the audio).

Last Sunday Mills wrote an editorial for the Sentinel, apologizing for other abusive police departments, but ignoring concerns about his own.
He also announced joint sponsorship of a Martin Luther King day march with the NAACP on Monday the 21st.


While Mills has commendably backed down somewhat in issuing citations for survival sleeping, rangers under his direction do seem to have increased citations for "being in a closed area', a fancy name for "trespass on public property" in parks at night. He has also declined to answer numerous outstanding questions about his department's use of tasers, baton strikes, guns, etc.

See "Demands of the New Police Chief and His Initial Response" at

Mills has said he holds meetings on Monday mornings. Contact the SCPD at 831-420-5810 to make an appointment. If you think it's worth the time and breath.

HUFF and Conscience and Action members met today to discuss further steps in documenting and challenging abuses targeting those whose homes are in vehicles. Volunteers interested in assisting this project, call HUFF at 423-4833.
§Alicia Kuhl's Response to the Harassment Flyer
by Robert Norse
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by Robert Norse (rnorse3 [at]
The Sentinel's front page story on Kuhl and her family, the Mills press conference,and my comments is at ("Sentinel presents Sympathetic Story on Van Dweller Harassment, Ducks Police Accountability").

I've tried to post comments but, for some reason, the Sentinel won't let me. Argh!
by Steve Schnaar (posted by Norse)
Steve posted a strong response to Chief Mills comments as described in the Sentinel article on his facebook page. A year ago, Steve had a similar reaction to the SCPD's sponsorship of the MLK march (See "SCPD to Cosponsor MLK Event - Questions for Chief Mills" at


Below is a letter to SCPD Chief Mills about the hypocrisy or ignorance of SCPD claiming to march in honor of the dream of Martin Luther King, while they continue to harass and oppress the poor.

I already wrote Mills a more broad-reaching letter last year, would have let that be sufficient but for that just yesterday the Sentinel had an article about people living in RVs, including extensive comments from Mills justifying ongoing repression.

Dear Chief Mills,

It's nice that you want to sponsor an event to March for the Dream of Martin Luther King Jr. However, it seems clear to me that the SCPD, and yourself as chief, have only the shallowest understanding of what that dream entails.

King spoke often about the three great evils of our society: racism, militarism, and economic inequality. He said that, “God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”

In a recent Sentinel article about people and families living in RVs, I was troubled to read your comment that while you sympathize with the plight of people forced to live in vehicles, you have to balance that with the demands of angry property owners.

The article also says that you suggested to desperate people living in vehicles that they work out a deal to rent space on private land, or at a campground. This is a completely out-of-touch response to an emergency situation of extreme inequality and out-of-reach housing costs. If your department is going to harass, ticket, inconvenience, even tow people's homes away, you are responsible for this abuse of human rights and decency, and you cannot hide behind theoretical alternatives that, if they exist at all, can only serve a small number of people.

After living in Santa Cruz for nearly two decades, I've become accustomed to cruel and ineffective policies that do nothing to reduce the negative impacts of homelessness on public space, while in the meantime adding more abuse and humiliation to those who are already suffering. I appreciate that at times, your leadership has been better than the norm. But by and large, what I see is more of the same: a war on the poor, which has been going on for decades.

King spent years calling for an end to poverty, not as an act of charity, but as the correction of injustice. He also foresaw that racism could never be truly ended without also ending poverty:

“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.”

I hear you saying that you are getting a lot of emails and people shouting angrily at public meetings, and you feel responsible to them. I ask you Mr. Mills, were there not screaming angry people trying to stop the first black children from going to integrated schools? What about the hateful bigots who fight to stop LGBTQ people from getting married or using the bathroom? Have there not been thousands of entitled angry men who've resisted every advancement of women towards greater respect and equality?

If you were truly to honor King, that would mean valuing human rights more than property rights, and morality over the enforcement of unjust laws. It would also mean operating from a universal love and solidarity for all, rather than letting policy be guided by fear and hate.
by Steve Schnaar
Below is more of our email conversation.

Mills' response, from 1/19:

Good Afternoon Steve,

Thank you for emailing me with your opinion and sincerely held beliefs. I understand your anxiety.

I disagree with you however. I do have to find balance. In your history with Santa Cruz have you even found a Chief who has worked to help the homeless? We are making great strides. Even if you believe it is not enough, we are headed the right direction and that is by no mistake. I have worked hard to make this happen in spite of those who try to stall our efforts.

All people have the right to live peacefully and with out fear. The housed and unhoused. The wealthy and poor. No one should have to put up with violence and yet that is exactly what many complain about. I will not tolerate violence from any of the above.

I worry and try to care for all people, not just those I have affinity for. My officers do an incredible job using judgement and compassion. They frequently don't tow vehicles because they don’t want to displace people.

They are not the primary providers of services to the homeless. We are just the only ones who can be called upon 24 hours a day to solve problems.

If you want change, real change, that means striking down laws and creating other ones at the state level. Is not this what democracy is all about? I cannot, as it stands now, sit by and watch people thoughtfully commit crime.



Steve Schnaar reply, 1/20:

Dear Chief Mills,

Let me start by saying that I definitely do appreciate that your vision of policing and your public communications are far more respectful and forward-thinking than most other police chiefs and officials I've encountered. I believe you when you say you want to shift the culture of policing. I also believe that in your heart you do admire Martin Luther King and want a world free of racism. Yet there is a widespread myth and misunderstanding throughout our country that King is kind of a liberal hero who wanted us all to get along, when in reality he was a radical agitator who called for a revolutionary restructuring of a society which is rotten to its core.

As for your reply to my letter, let me focus on one section. You write, "All people have the right to live peacefully and with out fear. The housed and unhoused. The wealthy and poor. No one should have to put up with violence and yet that is exactly what many complain about. I will not tolerate violence from any of the above."

I certainly agree, no one should have to live in fear or have to deal with violence. However this response seems to justify repressive actions against an entire class of people based on the crimes committed by a limited number. If the concern is violence or theft, then don't criminalize the victimless crime of sleeping while poor; simply enforce the laws against violence and theft.

It also strikes me as odd to justify crackdowns on poor people living in vehicles based on the idea that "all people have the right to live ... without fear", because the people without stable housing are the most likely of anyone to suffer violence and theft. That is an undeniable fact: it is extremely violent and harsh for people on the streets.

You say, "I worry and try to care for all people, not just those I have affinity for." Personal affinity is besides the point. I could go on for hours telling all the negative stories I have of encounters with homeless folks downtown. A lot of the people I deal with on a daily basis are very damaged, troubled people, many have stolen from my workplace, several men have physically threatened me. But that is irrelevant. The question is not who do I like, it's do ALL people have the basic human rights to safety, shelter, food, etc.?

I agree with you police are not and should not be service providers to poor people. But if you have no positive support to provide, that does not require you to impose a negative harassment. When the laws are set up to defend one group and marginalize another, then "law enforcement" is not neutral. You say that your officers need to respond to complaints, meaning only by wealthy people who own homes. What about the complaints of poor people who are desperate for a stable, safe place to sleep for the night?

In a similar exchange we had last year, I asked if you support the dream of King, would you oppose the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration and the drug war. You showed some understanding of the injustice of our drug laws, but nevertheless committed to keep upholding the law, and did not even respond to my question if you would join Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Again in our current exchange, you suggest that some laws should be changed, but in the meantime you will continue to enforce the existing laws. You can't have it both ways. You cannot enforce oppressive laws and then say it is moral because you're just upholding the law someone else wrote.

“How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.“ - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

Best regards,

Steve Schnaar

Chief Mills' response, 1/20:

There has been no crackdown.

Steve Schnaar response, 1/20:

Call it what you will, there has been a crackdown on people in vehicles going on for years. I did not mean it to suggest it was a new or recent policy change.

I do not blame you particularly, and sometimes in the past it has been far worse. But that does not change the fact that our society has extreme inequality and high levels of poverty, and in our area there is a historic housing affordability crisis--and instead of treating people like refugees and helping house them, they are pushed around from here to there, unwelcome everywhere.

I know for a little while there was a tolerated camp at San Lorenzo park which seemed far better for everyone IMO than having people sleep here and there in the bushes. Then there was this official camp on River St which was bizarrely expensive but I nevertheless thought a good small step for a small number of people. Then it was closed simultaneously to fences put up around many parks all over town.

As of 1/26, no further messages
by Alicia Kuhl (Alicia1L [at]
I see that Chief Mills is trying to show a policy of zero violence and I respect that but when my family was peacefully sleeping on the night of November 27th and a drunken homeowner from down the street was violently pounding on our RV at 1 am screaming and threatening us with violence and retaliation, the police did nothing but mock us.
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