Police intervene as homeless population rises

Campus police have been on their toes this week.

According to Detective Mike McPharlin, the recent increase of incidents involving homeless people is not uncommon.

“The cold weather does increase the number of homeless people who look for shelter on campus,” McPharlin said.

Police have had to deal with incidents among the homeless community that range from disorderly conduct to sexual exploitation of a minor.

The most serious case occurred at Marriott Library on Jan. 21. A homeless man was arrested after a librarian said she witnessed him viewing child pornography on a library computer.

Each count of sexual exploitation of a minor carries up to a 15-year jail sentence. Each individual picture of a child constitutes one count of sexual exploitation of a minor.

According to police, the man in the library admitted to viewing the Web sites after police read the man his Miranda rights. Officers also confiscated two disks with evidence of more child pornography images.

The man was booked into jail on one count of sexual exploitation of a minor, but only, McPharlin said, because he was arrested on “probable cause.”

A prosecutor will review the evidence and determine whether or not to charge the man further.

Because the Salt Lake County Jail will only hold a person for 48 hours without formal charges being filed, the man has been released.

McPharlin said this could pose a problem for police, because the man could return to campus.

The U gives people who break campus rules a “72-hour warning,” according to McPharlin, who calls the warning “a quick, temporary fix.”

After the 72 hours, the people are allowed to return to campus. Rarely, said McPharlin, does the U permanently ban someone from campus. “The U is not anxious to take this kind of severe permanent action against people,” he said.

Campus police officers often take the time to escort people off campus, as long as their crimes aren’t serious.

Depending on officers’ schedules, many even drive people to the homeless shelter.

However, if someone is using a campus building as shelter, officers “do not have the authority to authorize anyone to stay in a building who doesn’t have a right to be there,” McPharlin said.

As for Marriott Library, spokesperson Heidi Brett said, “the library is there for [homeless people’s] use as well as for the rest of the public.”

Any computers other than those in the Multimedia Center, Brett said, “are accessible to the public,” but librarians do “look out for illegal activity happening in the library.”

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