Last night we attended the Castro Safety Meeting organized by Supervisor Scott Wiener's office. With the recent uptick of violent crime in the Castro, citizens were concerned and wanted to hear about real solutions to this growing problem. Wiener invited representatives from each of the three SFPD Stations that have beats covering the Castro including Mission Station Captain Robert Moser, Park Station Captain Gregory Corrales and Northern Station Officer P. Thorshinsky. In addition to reps from SFPD, Greggy Carey and Ken Craig from Castro Community on Patrol, Tony Fernandes from the District Attorney's office, former District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and Sister Pat N Leather with Stop the Violence SF and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were in attendance to discuss their roles in curbing crime in the Castro.
Captain's Moser and Corrales started out the evening with crime stats pulled from around the Castro in the past 2 months. Most of the reported crimes were evening time, bar-related assaults or thefts (people getting drunk and fighting outside of bars or people getting their iPhone's or wallets pilfered). There were also several more aggressive or violent crimes reported including car break-ins and home burglaries in the Duboce area and a kidnapping/pistol-whipping near Hartford and 18th.
Because the Castro has three Police Stations serving the area, Captains Moser and Corrales noted that all three work together and share information related to these crimes. Some crimes are not isolated incidences and may be perpetrated across several precincts by the same person. Captain Corrales mentioned that as of last year, investigators have been brought to the precinct level from a city-wide level so they are more invested and aware of the crimes and the possible connections that occur between them.
Northern Station's Thorshinsky discussed some simple ways people could avoid being a victim including:
- Being aware of your surroundings at night (put your phone in your pocket and look around).
- Travel with friends.
- Leave nothing in your car that may be visible to passers by.
- When trusting personal items to strangers while you use the bathroom at coffee shops and the like, don't stereotype. Most surveillance footage reveals that it's not the homeless person with his pants down that's going to snatch your goods, but someone who looks like you and me.
While the crimes ran the gamut of noise complaints to violent crimes (like the kidnapping and pistol-whipping), most people in the crowd seemed to be concerned about the incidents related to the bars. Complaints like, "I live across the street from Toad Hall and I can't sleep at night. I call the police for noise complaints, but you guys never come out." Moser noted that on the scale of importance when it comes to expediting an officer to the scene, noise complaints take a back seat. Most especially at around 2AM when the SFPD is at its busiest.
While most of these folks expected the police to be at the beck and call of their complaints regarding the nightlife in the Castro, others in the crowd offered an interesting solution to this issue: the police have larger fish to fry so why don't we deal with these small complaints ourselves through Neighborhood Watches or the like? Sup. Wiener mentioned that the bars in the Castro have a security presence in addition to the Castro Community on Patrol presence. Right now, however, you'd have to hunt down one of these people to make a complaint. It's the 21st century for crying out loud. Why not have a text message pool or a Twitter feed that people can easily post to that the CCP and security guards are monitoring? Once they receive the complaint they can go address it immediately. Right now, the police still encourage folks to call the non-emergency number to make a complaint so that they can review repeat offending bars that may be over-pouring or acting irresponsibly, but for these kind of complaints, we as a community are capable of finding a way to deal with them.
When it comes to the more violent crimes, several victims of recent crimes came forward during the meeting to express their frustration over, in their opinion, the seemingly non-existent presence of the police in the neighborhood. The gentleman that was pistol-whipped and kidnapped attended the meeting (still visibly shaken) and asked what the police were doing to make sure what happened to him never happens to anyone else. Supervisor Wiener stepped in to note that the police force has been understaffed, but that is currently set to change as the SFPD has restarted their police academy. Wiener noted that the SFPD's optimal staffing is 1971 police officers. SF is currently short at around 1700 police officers. Captain Moser noted that they are currently running at max capacity and are dispatching both marked and unmarked officers and cars around the Castro neighborhood with increased frequency.
The meeting ended after 2 hours of community input and discussion with the SFPD explaining its current strategy to deal with the uptick in crime and other community leaders explaining how all of us could get involved to make the Castro safer.
The takeaways from the night were:
- Consider getting trained as a volunteer through the Castro Community on Patrol organization.
- Consider becoming a Stop the Violence Ambassador and create a safe haven for someone who is being victimized.
- Report all crimes to the SFPD, even if you are embarrassed or think they won't be a priority. There may be something that you report that may be a key piece of evidence in another crime. The SFPD non-emergency number is (415) 553-0123
- Report broken street lights to 311
- Utilize whistles as a way to alert others when you are in danger. It may seem like a joke but several people in attendance last night said the whistle has saved their life. Grab one from one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence or a CCP volunteer. They work!
- The community needs to work on solutions to issues surrounding noise complaints, loitering, etc. Another meeting to detail plans on how to deal with this probably needs to be organized by Supervisor Wiener's office with the CCP, Neighborhood Watches, merchants associations and bar owners.
While there was no silver bullet to address the issue of curbing the burst of violent crime in the Castro, awareness about community resources was brought to the forefront. Everyone doing their part to report suspicious activity and help our neighbors can help make Castro a safer place to live and play. We'll put together a permanent page on our site with safety information and details on how you can get involved this evening.