Pacific Valley Patrol security guards maintain a station outside the Golden State Triage Center, a former motel turned into housing for the homeless Tuesday, April 5, 2022 in Fresno.

What's at stake?

Some say the city of Fresno and Fresno Housing Authority have a "really good opportunity" to rethink its security plan around the city's converted motel shelters and use more strategies that are "actually responsive to community needs."

A Fresno private security company will lose at least one contract to provide services at a homeless shelter following a Fresno Bee investigation into safety at the city’s homeless shelters — and it will likely lose others in the coming months as the city takes steps to place more police officers in the area.

The investigation found disturbing examples of force used by the private security firm Pacific Valley Patrol at emergency and homeless shelters owned by the city and public housing authority on Parkway Drive in the years following the coronavirus pandemic outbreak.

In a Feb. 28 Fresno Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting, CEO Tyrone Roderick Williams acknowledged The Bee’s reporting and said FHA was working with city leaders to find new security providers.

“There’s been some articles written and some concern about where we are with the shelters,” he said. “Both the shelter operator (Turning Point of Central California) and the city are committed to taking on the responsibility of identifying new security firms and they are taking that on as even as we speak.”

McHenry Protective and Investigative Services will take over security at the Golden State Triage Center on April 1, company owner Jeromy McHenry confirmed via email. The firm replaces Pacific Valley Patrol; its chief executive officer, Cristiano Lopes, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“ I think there is clarity that some adjustments need to be made,” Williams said, “and both the city and Turning Point are committed to that.”

The change comes over a month after a Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias, whose district includes nine of the city’s new shelters, called for a new private security vendor, citing The Bee’s investigation.

City and housing authority officials say they’re working on a new security plan on the Parkway Drive corridor where the shelters are located — but it’s not immediately clear what those plans are.

Another long-term change that city leaders are proposing is to replace private security with Fresno police officers, who would work overtime on a contractual basis and be paid out of the emergency shelter’s security budgets, Arias said.

In an email statement to The Bee on Tuesday, Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said, “a comprehensive operational plan (focused) on reducing all crime around Parkway Drive and the surrounding neighborhoods has been submitted to the city manager.”

The plan, he said, includes utilizing existing resources such as patrol resources, bike units, and Contract Law Enforcement Services during peak times.

City spokesperson Sontaya Rose said in an emailed statement that the city is working on a new security plan for Parkway Drive “that would reduce shelter reliance upon private security while enhancing overall safety along that corridor.” Rose did not respond to follow-up questions regarding the contract policing proposal but said the new security measures are tentatively scheduled to be shared at the March 30 city council meeting.

Meanwhile, Fresno Housing Authority, which owns four sites along Parkway Drive, committed to working with the city on these new plans.

“Fresno Housing takes the well-being of the families and individuals we serve very seriously,” Deputy Executive Director Tammy Townsend said in an email statement to The Bee. “In partnership with the City of Fresno, we are working to evaluate strategies and services with the goal of enhancing the safety and security of all families and individuals on Parkway Drive.”

City and FHA spokespeople did not answer follow-up questions about whether they are looking for a new security firm.

Some say the city and housing authority have a “really good opportunity” to rethink their approach to security by investing more in community-based efforts.

A new private security vendor and Fresno PD coming to Parkway Drive

While Fresno city staff and FHA didn’t answer specific questions about security plans, Arias said public policing would replace the private security services along Parkway Drive.

Using the shelter operating budget’s security allocations and city resources, Fresno police will use overtime to provide security at the shelters, Arias said in a March 16 interview with The Bee.

Fresno PD provides a number of local public and private entities with services on a contract basis under its Contract Law Enforcement Services program, where officers can be hired and paid by third parties to provide services outside of their regular duties.

A February Fresno PD memo shared with The Bee shows that in 2022, for example, Fresno police worked over 12,527 hours to provide services at four Walmart stores throughout the city. Fresno police also worked thousands of hours under contract jobs for Fresno Area Express, Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Fashion Fair mall and Fresno City Hall in 2022.

The Fresno Police Officer’s Association didn’t respond to a request for comment on the proposed plans.

Police officers’ roles and responsibilities “are going to be very clear” under this new proposal, Arias said, “and that is to ensure the safety of the employees and the unhoused residents and to address any criminal activity in that zone.”

Balderrama said one of the most significant issues in the area is human trafficking and that the department will partner with community-based organizations such as Breaking the Chains to address the issue. He also said a 2021 state law that decriminalizes loitering for the purposes of prostitution makes it more difficult for police to rescue victims, arrest pimps, and reduce prostitution-related activities and urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to repeal the law.

Eventually, Arias wants to see the stretch of Parkway Drive between Belmont and Olive avenues closed to traffic as the city works to acquire all of the motels on Parkway Drive — and then have a police officer stationed at both ends of the street.

“Only those who are in a shelter or those who are working in the shelter would be allowed to enter into that zone,” Arias said, a move that he said would “significantly reduce” human trafficking and drug trafficking in the area.

A ‘really good opportunity’ to rethink shelter security

Some say updating security plans on Parkway Drive is an opportunity to rethink how to engage the neighborhood and surrounding community.

Tania Pacheco-Werner, co-director at the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State, led a 2022 study on housing safety for the Fresno Housing Authority based on interviews of residents living at a number of FHA properties, primarily in west Fresno.

In a March 10 interview with The Bee, Pacheco-Werner said the city has a “really good opportunity” to develop a comprehensive multi-dimensional approach to security that “is actually responsive to community needs.”

In addition to “active” security approaches such as public policing and private security, Pacheco-Werner’s research found that strengthening community development programs where people could meet their neighbors was an important element of providing security.

A neighbors network — an alternative to a traditional neighborhood watch program — could help build ties in the Parkway Drive and Jane Addams neighborhood community, she said.

“We see this area as transitory,” she said, “but, no, people are living there … and so I think a really good investment in safety would be to help the community build an actual community there.”

She said that the Jane Addams and Parkway Drive area would benefit from a community policing approach that is based on trust and strong communication.

“Sometimes people feel like, ‘well, if we say something to the police, we never hear back, we never know if they followed up, we never know what happened,’” she said.

It’s not immediately clear if the city is planning to use this approach in the area. Arias said their primary role will be to “provide general security and safety” — as well as make arrests “if and when a crime does occur.”

Passive investments such as better lighting and fencing can also help improve security, she said. Philanthropy, on the other hand, could help pay to train shelter and neighborhood residents in Mental Health First Aid, she said.

Ensuring the area’s security, Pacheco-Werner said, requires all of these approaches to work together.

“It’s not just having a fence; it’s having a fence and knowing my neighbors and living in a well-lit area.”

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.

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