As temperatures drop, police turn attention to the homeless

As temperatures drop, police turn attention to the homeless »Play Video
SEATTLE -- Seattle police are hitting the streets to keep alleys and abandoned areas safe, but the effort is more about helping the homeless than about stopping crime.

Seattle shelters fill up quickly when the temperatures drop, so a special kind of police patrol is now working to help homeless men and women who've been left out in the cold.

Out on patrol with a paddy wagon of sorts in tow, people would be forgiven for assuming the officers were getting ready to make a bust or mass arrest.

Instead, they're out looking for people in need of a little warmth, and the paddy wagon is actually the "warm weather welcome wagon."

Officer Chad McLaughlin and Sgt. Paul Gracy are part of the department's Community Policing Division, and they go out every night to help the homeless get away from the freezing pavement.

"What we're truly trying to do here is reach out to those folks who may have not gotten the word that it's going to get really cold," Gracy said.

The perception of cops harassing the homeless is a tough one to shake, and that's evident on the streets. Even in Thursday night's bone-chilling cold, only one person took up the offer for shelter after an hour of searching.

"We hit most of the spots a few times, and as it gets colder, a lot of people will change their minds," McLaughlin said.

Gracy and McLaughlin said some people have criminal troubles or have been booted from shelters before and literally have nowhere else to go. But the Warm Weather Welcome Wagon takes all comers.

"We're going to be out all night, so if you guys change your mind, we'll come back by. Just look for the van," McLauglin said.

While the patrols mostly focus on downtown and along the viaduct, officers can call for a van pickup anywhere in the city.

The shelter room at the Seattle Center will be open through at least Sunday.