Biloxi city officials or police are shipping homeless people across the Mississippi-Alabama state line to Mobile, according to City of Mobile chief of staff James Barber.
Barber said in an email to Biloxi Mayor A.M. Gilich on Thursday obtained by WKRG, "Over the past several months, the City of Mobile has noticed an influx of homeless individuals and an increased number of police calls associated with that ever-increasing number. After initiating an investigation, which included interviews, it has come to our attention that the City of Biloxi\Biloxi Police Department is engaging in a pattern and practice of behavior that is quite troubling."
"Based upon what we have ascertained, the Biloxi Police Department, utilizing uniformed police officers and city vehicles, is transporting homeless individuals from Biloxi, MS. to Mobile, AL. Furthermore, the techniques utilized to coerce the individuals to travel range from intimidation and fear to fraud and deception," Barber wrote in the email. "Interviews with multiple homeless individuals have revealed a consistent pattern regarding the circumstances surrounding their arrival in Mobile. The majority of interviewees provide a general description of events, which are all quite similar. By these accounts, it begins with a confrontation with Biloxi Police. During the exchange, the officer, while in uniform and acting under his apparent authority, implies to the homeless individual that they are in violation of one or more criminal statutes. The officer further explains the City of Biloxi does not have adequate social services programs to assist the homeless. At that point, the officer insinuates the individual has a choice of either going to jail or being transported to Mobile, AL. Although an actual threat of arrest is never articulated, the clear connotation of the exchange leaves the homeless individual with no alternative but to be transported to Mobile or the possibility they may be arrested. Once the homeless individual agrees to go to Mobile, the officer transports them in their city vehicle. Another common method is under the promise of assistance. The officer approaches the homeless individual and makes an offer to help. For example, the officer might say, "When you are ready to get your life in order, I can get you help." Once the individual agrees or requests the offered assistance, they are placed in a police vehicle, driven to Mobile and dropped off in close proximity to a homeless shelter. During one interview, the individual said the transporting officer was bragging to a co-worker that he had transported over 50 people to Mobile."
Gilich replied to Barber on Friday in an email, "I believe you have been misinformed."
"Since August 2022, the City has worked with two shelters in Mobile that offer homeless persons numerous resources not available in our community. These shelters have been in coordination and contact with our police department, and any individuals wanting to go to the Mobile shelters have signed consent forms. Since August of last year, there have been less than twenty transports. During the 2023 calendar year only two people were offered transportation and assistance to the shelters," Gilich said. "While it is true that some individuals have utilized the services of the Mobile shelters, the inferences in your letter attributing some wrongdoing by our police department are incorrect."
Barber said in his email to Gilich, "If the City of Biloxi is engaging in such a practice as described, the City of Mobile formally and respectfully requests the City of Biloxi to cease and desist from transporting, providing transportation, arranging for transportation, or generally allowing for the movement of homeless persons from Biloxi, Ms. to Mobile. Al."
"If you fail to refrain from such a pattern and practice, the City of Mobile will be forced to seek alternative actions, including the notification of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Barber said.
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