Paul White of the nonprofit Reno Quality of Life recently announced that he and his group plan to arrest on Saturday the houseless who frequent Pickett Park. The announcement proclaimed: “To all illegal squatters in Pickett Park, we love and care for you enough to citizens arrest every one of you who is found in violation of City of Reno laws.”
White said the Quality of Life group will be meeting at the park at 10 a.m. “because we truly care about your present situation: lying around in filth, drugs/alcohol, crime, and (where it applies) avoiding seeking treatment for mention illness is ruining your lives and also the quality of life for all Reno residents.”
That language drew hostile responses online.
“This flyer is literally announcing a felony,” one person wrote. Another said White is planning to terrorize the homeless.
A protest was quickly organized in response.
“Please join me in bringing some humanity to the people that occupy that park,” the organizer wrote. The event, “Bring Some Love to Pickett Park” is on Facebook.
White said that city officials and RPD have been negligent in enforcing city codes in regard to the homeless.
Local attorney Henry Sotelo, who’s been a prosecutor and defender, said White’s efforts are misguided and shortsighted.
“Regular citizens who are untrained in law enforcement can get into trouble trying to arrest an individual. What they should do is call law enforcement and inform (the individual) to remain on site until the law gets there,” he said. “However, I do not recommended for a citizen to detain somebody. Some people could be accused of a battery for detaining people.”
QOL’s approach? A bad idea, Sotelo said.
“Police care about these people. They have already been down this road by trying non-stop arrests,” he explained. “It does not work. We see the same people. We see the same issues.”
“Of course they care. Police care about these people. They have already been down this road by trying non-stop arrests,” he explained. “It does not work. We see the same people. We see the same issues.”
The Reno Police Department will have officers at the park on Saturday.
Deputy Chief Byron Venzon said that they are aware of the situation and are monitoring it. He advised against citizens’ arrests, citing similar reasons as Sotelo.
“In some circumstances, a citizen’s arrest can be ‘legal’ and is not uncommon in cases such as trespassing on private property. That example is generally done by trained security at private businesses,” Venzon said. “That said, because it is legal, does not make it advisable to those not trained. Without some training, the potential to expose yourself, or anyone else, to a dangerous situation exists.
“The RPD would advise citizen’s who want to make an arrest or file a criminal complaint regarding a crime contact the RPD dispatch center at 334-COPS (or 911 in cases of emergency) and request an officer respond to the scene.”
Many criticized White, who also pushed the RenoElections campaign last election cycle. White also tried to get parents not to take their children to school on the first day. The demonstration drew few supporters.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include information from the Reno Police Department.