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What It's Like To Be A Police Officer On Skid Row

Following the officer-involved shooting on Skid Row last week, we take a look at what it's like to be a police officer on Skid Row. ATVN's Stassy Olmos walks the streets with LAPD for a closer look. 

"No officer wakes up in the morning saying I want to kill a homeless person. Not one," says LAPD Officer Deon Joseph as he we join him on his daily walk through Skid Row Monday afternoon.

At Central Station, he is known as the Senior Lead Officer, but on the streets of Skid Row they call him "Uncle".

"I'm like that big uncle you call when somebody messes with you." 

Joseph has been working on Skid Row for 17 years. After he pours out a homeless man's beer, he says, "If you stop the little things, it'll stop the bigger things from happening." He says that stopping someone from drinking or smoking can ultimately stop them from becoming violent or committing crime. Joseph says many people on Skid Row deal with mental health issues, but drugs make things much worse.

"Now with meth amphedomines, spice and all these drugs into play, even the most adequately mentally health... clinician cannot talk these guys down… and that’s what driving uses of force today," says Joseph.

Mental illness became a focus of conversations and protests after a facebook video went viral last Sunday of a homeless man shot and killed by the police. There is now an investigation into whether the LAPD's actions were justified.

On the streets of Skid Row, we saw many residents greet Officer Joseph as a friend, but there are still some residents that think the police watch them too closely. 

"They'll drive at 1 mile an hour, down the street on both sides and flip and go back… just looking for somebody to do something wrong," says Juju, a man that used to set up his tent next to the man who was killed last Sunday. 

Others on Skid Row say they feel like the police target them, like one man who struggle with mental illness. He says, "I'm paranoia schizophrenic I don't like crowds, I can't ride buses because of these people I keep thinking they're plotting on me or whatever."

From his office, the President of LA Mission, Herb Smith, can see what he calls the Skid Row community. He says the community is growing more violent and he's seeing a greater number of altercations.

"I believe most of those are triggered from mental health challenges because we are seeing a greater population with mental health challenges coming here," says Smith.

 He says the streets need police protection, "but sometimes it can be an overkill. It can be a very inappropriate intervention to a situation."

The LAPD currenty collaborates with the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health. Irma Castenada with the department says that officers on Skid Row can call her at any hour of the night with people they think need help. 

"They'll say to me, I need you to put this person in a hospital and I need you to follow up to that, that person gets linked for treatment." 

"Our society has failed them, our societies answer to mental illness right now is to close down all the mental health hospitals and kick them out into the streets," says Officer Joseph. "I have a niece who I raised form birth who is mentally ill, I think what if she was out here with no support, with no family, with nothing."

He says that 90% of the time, the LAPD's encounters with the mentally ill on Skid Row are peaceful, but there are still steps we need to take to help them. Aside from the training that the officers do, they are currently. working on outreach programs with partners such as the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health and various nonprofits.

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