Broward News

Fort Lauderdale Police Put Lives in Danger Seizing Homeless' Property

As part of the city’s effort to clean up one of the most troubled sections of downtown, cops seized all of Jennifer Shoop’s belongings — including vital blood pressure medication — in Stranahan Park last Thursday.

As a result, Shoop's life is in danger.

“I’ve been trying to stay out of the sun to keep my blood pressure down,” Shoop explained Monday, after going five days without her prescription. “It’s like we already have so little and [the city is] taking it from us. We’re still human, you know.”

In 2014, city commissioners passed a law that prohibited “personal property to be stored on private property.” It’s referred to as the storage ban, and it effectively prevents homeless people from keeping belongings. But Shoop and others contend the law is being applied unfairly, saying their stuff is taken with no warning and retrieving it from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department is a hassle.

“No one told us anything or gave us anything,” Shoop says. “We came back from [eating] and people told us that police took all our stuff. I couldn’t believe it.”

Fort Lauderdale Police and Mayor Jack Seiler did not return messages from New Times seeking comment. We’ll update this post when we hear back.

For years,  homeless people have gathered in Stranahan Park.. To control this phenomenon, city commissioners have tried to enforce laws critics collectively call “homeless hate laws.” Among them was a law that prohibited sharing food outdoors without a permit. The move led to the arrest of 92-year-old WWII vet and decades-long homeless advocate Arnold Abbott. It sparked several lawsuits and resulted in Fort Lauderdale being ridiculed in headlines and TV shows around the world. Police stopped enforcing the ban following the negative publicity.

Though the storage ban was passed in 2014, homeless advocates report police only began enforcing it recently after the Fort Lauderdale Women’s Club, which is located beside Stranahan Park, complained. “It really frightens a lot of people to come here,” Women’s Club President Jo Ann Smith told the Sun Sentinel.

In April, police red-tagged belongings and warned they would be seized within 24 hours. But there had been no reports of any confiscation at that time.

Shoop, who has been residing at Stranahan Park for the past few weeks after being booted from a local shelter, says police seized property last week so workers could pressure-clean the east sidewalk. Homeless people who were present quickly moved their stuff, but Shoop and Erica Muskgrow, another homeless woman, were three miles away at the Cooperative Feedings Program for a hot meal. When they returned three hours later, their belongings were missing.

The ordinance stipulates that in the “need for an area-wide cleanup, the city shall post written notice... at least 36 hours in advance.” But Shoop and Muskgrow say that didn’t happen.

A June 24 memo posted at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department lists the property of 26 people. The items confiscated include a crutch, yoga mats, and bags and suitcases of clothes. Though the ordinance states the city may dispose of the items within 30 days, the memo says “if unclaimed after 14 days these items will become sole property of the city... [anything of value] will be auctioned on the internet.”

On Saturday, cops told Shoop and Muskgrow their belongings were being kept in the evidence unit, which is only open for a few hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They returned Monday at 7:45 a.m. and waited almost an hour for an officer to help them. Finally they emerged carrying four bags and a gray tub of clothing.

Shoop was relieved that all of her belongings, including her medication, were there. But Muskgrow wasn’t so lucky. “The officer was very nice,” Muskgrow says, “but I’m missing one shoe and my Cubs jacket still.”

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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson