Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said he is working to eliminate thousands of homeless people's old warrants for minor offenses in the coming weeks as part of a solution to help get people off the streets.
"This is a humanitarian crisis of our generation," Moore said Wednesday in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press. "This matches any other calamity that this city or this region or this country has seen. It is, I believe, a social emergency."
Homelessness rose 16% in LA over the past year , to more than 36,000 people, according to a June report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Across LA County, the count increased 12%, to nearly 59,000 people.
California's homeless crisis came under fire this month after President Donald Trump threatened to intervene and "get that whole thing cleaned up."
"They can't be looking at scenes like you see in Los Angeles and San Francisco," Trump said in an interview with Fox News.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti responded that he would welcome federal involvement to solve the issue.
Since applying for the top job last year, Moore has been considering a plan to eliminate so-called bench warrants more than 5 years old for minor offenses such as drinking in public, blocking a sidewalk and failure to appear in court. Moore celebrated his first anniversary as chief in June.
His plan calls for dismissing old quality-of-life warrants that can rack up hundreds of dollars in fees and often plague homeless people who can't pay or show up for court.
Moore said he would prefer police to focus on criminal behavior rather than low-level offenses "that get in the way of people's recovery because they were cited for something one, two, three, four years ago."
"We have hundreds of thousands of bench warrants that haven't been served in years," the chief said. "We need to clear the docket."
Moore did not offer details about his proposal Wednesday, and his spokesman, Joshua Rubenstein, said he did not have additional information such as a timeframe for when the warrants would be cleared. City prosecutors, who would have to work with the police department to eliminate the warrants, declined to comment.
Moore said he doesn't see homelessness as a law enforcement issue but rather a public health and safety concern that requires greater investment in mental health, sanitation, hygiene and housing resources. He declined to name any entity responsible for the burgeoning crisis.
Police and firefighters are on the streets dealing with homeless people at all hours, Moore said, but they don't see anyone in uniform offering other services.
"Where's our outreach workers, where's our mental health workers?" he said. "I would love to see outreach workers wearing a vest. I would love for the public to be able to drive up and down the street and see outreach workers readily identifiable conducting outreach and engagement to people experiencing homelessness."
Moore decried the city's homeless death toll — about 900 people last year and roughly 800 in 2017 — but said he was encouraged by recent tax measures. They include a 2016 voter-approved proposition that lets the city issue $1.2 billion in bonds to build housing as well as billions of dollars in proposed state funding to address homelessness.
On marijuana legalization, the chief said law enforcement needs to target black market financiers and building owners who rent to illegal pot shops. Arresting store operators isn't working, he said.
"We have to get out of first gear on this," Moore said.
Moore said he's encouraged that officer-involved shootings have decreased from 46 in 2017, when 17 people were killed, to 33 last year, when 12 people died. There have been 13 shootings as of July 8, in which six people died, but he said the goal is always zero.
The department also is researching less-lethal options as an alternative to firearms.
Moore's other goals include promoting a diverse workforce that reflects the city as the next generation of LAPD supervisors so they can lead the department for the 2028 Olympics.