Homeless respond to 'war' allegations

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SARASOTA - On Tuesday, civil liberties leaders in Sarasota alleged a "war on the homeless" led by the Sarasota Police Department.

The ACLU contends that text messages between two police officers, in which a homeless person is referred to as a "bum", proves a concerted effort against the homeless.

"I'm not a bum, I want to work," said Cindy Elund, a homeless woman, "physically its been two steps forward and three steps back."

Another homeless man, James Franklin, Jr., also talked to ABC 7 News.  "The police ran me out of numerous places that I've been in, but its just a constant battle.  You know, you have to find some place to stay," said Franklin.

"We ask our elected and appointed city leaders to end the city's war on the homeless," said ACLU paralegal Michael Barfield.

Despite that accusation, Franklin says the police are just doing what they have to.

"I have nothing bad to say about the police department, they just doing they're job," said Franklin.

Officials with the Sarasota Police Department say the text messages in question are offensive and isolated. But despite that, they say they'll be starting new training procedures as early as Wednesday.

"I would expect at every shift briefing right now that they talk about sensitivity when referring to people including text messages between each other," said Sarasota Police Captain Paul Sutton.

The ACLU also claimed the police department is actively targeting the homeless.

"Other messages we uncovered indicated that a senior supervisor instructed officers to target homeless individuals in a city park," said Barfield.

Sutton says the ACLU is misinterpreting the departments procedures.

"The assignment was legitimate," said Sutton, "the assignment was to check closed parks to find out if people were violating city ordinances by being in parks after they were closed."