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News From Last Night’s SFPD Park District Community Meeting

On the second Tuesday of each month, SFPD Park Station Captain Raj Vaswani holds a community meeting where he offers updates and advisories and answers questions. Hoodline attended last night’s discussion to follow up on reporting and to learn more about what’s happening in the district, which currently spans the Inner Sunset, Upper Haight and parts of Lower Haight, a portion of the Western Addition, and the eastern end of Golden Gate Park.

February marks Vaswani’s sixth month at the helm of the Park District. In terms of district staffing, which in the past few years has dipped below capacity, Vaswani reported that five new officers have been added to the roster, but two others are leaving on specialized assignment. Some of the newly-assigned members are from SFPD’s recently graduated 241st police academy class. Rookies face field training, followed by a customary 1-year probationary period.

Yesterday afternoon at the corner of Haight & Ashbury, Vaswani said one of those rookies got into a situation when a suspect “decided to resist arrest,” but she handled the incident and took the perp into custody.

In response to the quadruple homicide at Page & Laguna last Friday, Vaswani has added more officers to the Eddy/Scott/Divisidero area. “I’m making sure that we redouble our efforts to avoid any spillover violence,” he said. The police believe the violence to be gang-related, and are hoping to stem potential retaliatory attacks.

Drug dealing on Haight was one of the first items Vaswani raised, which brought up several rounds of questions. Some people view Haight as a “gateway,” said Vaswani. In last month’s meeting, he mentioned car-living visitors from Boston and Toronto. Since then, “we’ve seen a lot of people from Colorado and Seattle.” In many cases, he said there’s a perception that selling drugs on Haight is tolerated. “‘Come on, this is Haight St.!’" he mimicked the prevailing attitude. "We try to educate them,” he said.

“Not all the young people out there are selling drugs. A lot of them want to be there because this is the place to be,” Vaswani added. 

One arrest at Haight & Stanyan snared a suspect with multiple arrests who was on probation. SFPD followed up at his residence to find 92 pounds of marijuana and “other stuff.” Similarly, a fire at a suspected grow house on Masonic resulted in distribution charges and a criminal stay-away order, another tactic Vaswani intends to use more aggressively.

“My officers know it’s a priority,” said Vaswani, who announced that he’s working with the District Attorney’s office to solicit comments from merchants and residents for community impact letters that judges can consider during sentencing.

Vaswani said auto thefts and break-ins have seen a “definite” drop, “after only a few arrests. It’s been good for the last couple of months.” Many stolen or burgled cars belong to tourists, but even Vaswani said he’s had his ride stolen. “It’s very inconvenient, even if you don’t drive every day.” Residents who are concerned about suspicious activity should call 911 “when they start feeling something wrong. It takes time for our officers to set up to make an arrest.”

Garage thefts are very common in Park District, and most are caused when someone drives away and leaves a door open or unlocked, said Vaswani. “Some thieves have bought bulk clickers on eBay and just drive around after playing with the code,” and others try to reach an emergency release switch or “short out the bypass key.” One of the most frequently stolen items from garages are bicycles.

“If you have bikes in a garage, please secure them to something fixed,” he said.

SFPD recently broke up a bicycle “chop shop” located near a homeless encampment in a forested area along 7th Avenue near Kirkham Heights. After calling the city’s homeless outreach team and DPW for a cleanup, police uncovered the stolen bike operation. The department’s enterprising stolen bike squad captured serial numbers to help some owners recover their lost wheels.

At the meeting, Vaswani also gave a detailed overview of the proposed police redistricting plans; if implemented, his district will lose the Western Addition and Duboce Triangle and have Fulton instead of Geary for its northern border. If Park District drops from four patrol sectors to three as planned, Vaswani said he’ll use his remaining resources to extend foot and bike patrols down Haight and into Cole Valley and will push to keep his plainclothes team. “It’s critical for Haight Street.”

After the meeting, Vaswani left to join a few officers on patrol during the swing shift. “It helps me address some of the problems.”

If you'd like to attend the next Park Station meeting, it will be held at the Park District Police Station (1899 Waller St.) on Tuesday, February 10th at 6pm.

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