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Sioux Falls Police Chief: addressing homelessness about more than laws

SFPD Jon Thum
Jackie Hendry
Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum shares his perspective with the Sioux Falls Homeless Task Force on Monday, August 22, 2022.

Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum told members of the Sioux Falls Homeless Task Force on Monday that simply enforcing the law won't address the causes of homelessness.

Thum spoke at the group's third meeting along with the city attorney and executive director of South Dakota Urban Indian Health. The homeless task force plans to offer policy ideas to city leaders by the end of the year.

During a recent public input meeting, some city residents called for additional foot patrols in some parts of downtown to discourage loitering and panhandling. Chief Thum said officers are committed to enforcing existing ordinances, but that's not where the solution lies.

"We are also more than willing to tell you that that's not necessarily dealing with some of the root causes of what we're seeing as the population tends to grow and things change a little bit," he told the task force.

Thum said alcoholism and other addictions contribute to many of the calls his officers handle. He added that 40% of the city's police officers are trained in mental health crisis response, and the department currently partners with Southeastern Behavioral Health. The chief said it's just not enough to meet the growing need.

"The workforce for everybody is very, very strapped right now. We're not fully staffed with officers. And for the qualified mental health professionals, I think people are under the impression there's plenty of them too. Everybody's understaffed in a variety of ways," said Thum.

The Sioux Falls Police Department is short seven officers, according to Public Information Officer Sam Clemens. While there are 18 candidates currently in training, he said not all recruits make it past that stage.

Chief Thum said there's room for additional partnerships with organizations like South Dakota Urban Indian Health to alleviate the burden on law enforcement while also addressing the true needs of the city's homeless population.

The Sioux Falls Homeless Task Force meets again Monday, September 12 at 4pm in the downtown Siouxland Library.

Jackie is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls Studio.