It was standing-room only at the Peacock Lounge last night, site of the Lower Haight Public Safety Meeting. And in case you weren't able to squeeze yourself in, here's your trusty Haighteration recap.
The meeting kicked off around 7pm with Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association (LoHaMNA) president Thea Selby emceeing the event. Selby addressed the overflow crowd of roughly 100 attendees, who filled the main room and spilled out into the bar area.
First up: a couple of announcements. 1) The next Lower Haight Art Walk will be August 3rd, and 2) the mural at Haight and Laguna will likely be demolished around November or December to make way for the imminent development of 55 Laguna.
Next, Selby introduced various dignitaries in the room, including SFPD Captains Ann Mannix and Greg Corrales, and Supervisors Scott Wiener and Christina Olague.
Wiener and Olague then made some remarks about public safety. Wiener noted that, on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved funding for three police academy classes per year for the next two years, which should help replenish the shrinking ranks of the SFPD. Olague touched on a number of issues which could help increase safety, including improving youth education, transforming blighted or unused property, and doing a better job of helping former inmates re-enter society.
After the Supes' remarks, Selby took the pulse of the crowd. "Have you or anyone you know had your car broken into in the past few months?" About 20 hands were raised. Been a victim of an armed robbery? We saw three hands go up. Had your house broken into? About 30 hands went into the air, provoking numerous gasps from the crowd. A gentleman sitting next to us, clearly a long-time neighborhood resident, said quietly to himself, "It's happening again."
After each question, Selby asked if the respondents had called the police after their respective incidents. Most seemed to indicate that yes, they had indeed called the police.
This was followed by some statistics and suggestions from the two police captains.
First, Captain Greg Corrales of Park Station, which covers the section of the neighborhood west of Steiner, noted that violent crime in the Park District is down. However, property crime is up. "Burglaries are skyrocketing," he noted.
Regarding auto break-ins, Corrales said that the common factor was property being left visible in the car. "I'm not suggesting it's the victims' fault," Corrales added, but "we need to do a better job of educating the public." Meaning, don't leave items visible in your car.
Similarly, with home break-ins, Corrales noted a trend in burglaries in which someone jumps a fence and enters a home through an open window. "It's amazing the number of people who don't lock their windows," Corrales said. So, you're gonna want to lock those.
Captain Ann Mannix of Northern Station, which covers the Lower Haight from Steiner eastward, then held up an iPhone. "Who owns one of these?" she asked. Dozens of people raised their hands. "This is the number one stolen thing in America." Don't walk around texting and staring at your phone; keep it in your pocket.
Mannix noted that street robberies in the Northern District are actually down, and arrests are up — but, those are mere statistics. If things feel unsafe, the neighborhood should hold more meetings like this, form community groups, and be each other's eyes and ears.
Mannix told two stories. The first was about a recent stroll she was taking on Laussat, during which she spotted an open security gate outside someone's home. Looking up, she also noticed the door of the home was wide open. Mannix knocked on the door, but got no answer. Finally, after she called out to see if anyone was home, a woman responded. It turned out the resident had been inside, alone, working on a laptop, and had left the door open to enjoy the nice weather outside. Mannix cautioned her to at least close her security gate, lest someone with more nefarious intentions walk right in.
Her second story was about the chiropractor's office on the 100 block of Fillmore, which recently had its window smashed and a laptop stolen. How did no nearby residents hear what must have been quite a commotion? Neighbors need to be alert, and report suspicious behavior as it happens.
Finally, Mannix suggested that, in the event you get robbed, try to look at the assailant's shoes. They don't usually take their shoes off immediately after a crime, she noted, making shoes a good way of identifying a suspect. Also, Mannix suggested that business owners install video surveillance. "We've had fantastic luck with video" in both deterring crime and capturing criminals on camera, Mannix said.
There was then a Q&A session with the Captains and Supervisors.
A question was posed about graffiti at the Church and Duboce Muni construction site. Scott Wiener said he would make sure the MTA cleaned it up.
There was a question about why police weren't running decoy operations, which the speaker said had successfully combatted muggings in Bernal Heights. Mannix said decoy operations were underway around Geary and Laguna, and that they could extend them down to the Lower Haight. This was met with a round of applause.
A question arose about bicyclists not stopping at stop signs along the Wiggle. Mannix said cops are issuing tickets, and directed people to watch a recent KRON video on the subject. An audience member then countered with the point that cars cause more accidents than bikes do.
Someone asked if Mannix shared the Northern District's philosophy on narcotics busts. Mannix said absolutely, noting a general correlation between drug use and crime.
A woman who lives at Duboce and Divisadero said her apartment had been broken into four times in the past year. This prompted many audible gasps. The people above her had been robbed too. She expressed frustration, having called the police many times, keeping her doors locked, etc. She said repeatedly, "I just don't know what to do." Captain Corrales responded, asking her to give him her contact information, and promising to send an officer to monitor her building.
Another woman said she had had three break-ins in the past few months, with one burglar even using "explosives" to blow through her front door. More gasps.
A man asked if there were any plans for foot patrols in the neighborhood. Mannix said that resources were constrained, but that a "sector car" (cops assigned to a specific area) should be patrolling the neighborhood on foot. Were they, she asked? "Never!" replied several in the crowd.
A woman said her house had been broken into, and that she had seen at least two car break-ins recently as well. She asked what trends, if any, police were seeing. Mannix responded that the theme with car break-ins is items in the car. "Even stinky gym clothes in a bag" can appear valuable to a potential thief.
Finally, a man said his van had been broken into 4 times in the past four days — yet, no items seemed to have been taken from the van. Why would someone do this? The immediate consensus: "To sleep!"
Mannix, Olague and Wiener than spoke briefly about realignment, which is basically local jurisdictions (rather than state) being tasked with steering the re-entry of former inmates into society. Mannix noted that 53% of these releases are violent offenders, and 33% are homeless. Wiener said while the city can do a better job than the state on this, there's still a lot of work for S.F. to do. Olague said we need to look at housing, because we can't expect people to re-enter society if there's no place for them to live. Basically they all seemed to agree that this issue contributes to crime in the city, if not the neighborhood.
Finally, the meeting broke up into smaller groups, in which people were tasked with coming up with suggestions for improving neighborhood and personal safety. After 15 minutes, the meeting reconvened and the groups shared their results.
- Improving street lighting
- Locking doors and gates
- Trimming overgrown trees
- Installing sensor lighting
- Having SF Safe assess your home or business
- Cleaning up the neighborhood, which makes you visible and helps you meet people
- Installing cameras and burglar alarm systems
- Walking in pairs
- Being aware of surroundings
- Not going out at 3am
- Concealing valuables
- Keeping your phone in your pocket
Just before the meeting adjourned, a woman said that between Page and Duboce, she knew of about nine people who had been robbed at gunpoint by what sounded like the same man. A shorter African American male with a small goatee, as she described him, his tactic was to approach people with a cigarette and ask for a light; then, "put a gun in your face."
Captain Ann Mannix said, "we have no report of that." She said victims of robberies need to call the police. The woman asserted that the victims had indeed called the police. The discrepancy was perplexing.
And that's how the meeting ended, right around 8:30pm, as planned.
All in all, last night's meeting seemed successful at shining a light on the safety issues that exist in the neighborhood, but perhaps less so at coming up with concrete solutions. And maybe that's to be expected from a 1.5-hour long meeting. But, at least it got a dialogue going — and that's a start.