Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Crime & Emergencies
Published on September 09, 2015
Auto Burglaries And Homeless Encampments Top Park Station Community Meeting AgendaPhoto: Walter Thompson/Hoodline

A smaller-than-average crowd braved the heat to attend last night's Park Station community meeting. During the session, Park District Captain John Sanford, Jr. walked attendees through crime stats, traffic enforcement, and efforts to deal with homeless encampments that have popped up around the district, which encompasses the Upper Haight, Cole Valley, Duboce Triangle, parts of the Inner Sunset and Lower Haight, a portion of the Western Addition, and the eastern end of Golden Gate Park.

Auto Thefts and Break-ins

Park District has responded to 364 stolen car complaints since January 1st, with 47 thefts occurring in the last 30 days. There have been 902 automobile break-ins in the district, "and by next month, we'll clearly be over 1,000 auto burglaries for the year," said Sanford, who noted that vehicle crime rates have risen in all SFPD districts.

"We're up against a number of things, but there are still too many people leaving valuables in their vehicles," said Sanford, noting that perpetrators scout residential blocks "very quickly" before returning later to break into cars. "We have experienced that many are working in teams," he said, adding that the SFPD has evidence that many break-ins are done by gangs.

Photo: Botao Hu/Twitter

"Unfortunately, we're not just dealing with transient and homeless populations. There's more organized crime from gang members throughout the city," said Sanford, who described an incident on Tuesday in which an officer who was running a surveillance operation in Twin Peaks got into a scuffle with a suspect who jumped into a waiting vehicle. The officer "tried to hang on, fell and was injured. Luckily, no broken bones or anything, so he was able to come back to work today," Sanford said.

Police have identified the suspect and are working with the District Attorney's office to get a warrant, but Sanford said incidents like these are "exactly what we're up against in various parts of the district." On average, Sanford said auto burglars are able to complete a smash-and-grab in "8.5 to 14 seconds ... in some cases, even faster than that."

Sanford urged residents with security cameras near crime scenes to contact Park Station to share video with investigators, noting that "the eyes of the community really help us greatly" when it comes to identifying suspects. "If you have footage, we encourage you to give us a call."

(Jorge Dalmau/Flickr)

Traffic Enforcement

"I don't know if any of you noticed, but there was a little bit of an issue with cyclists in the district," said Sanford, who reiterated that officers are under orders to cite cyclists who don't follow the rules of the road. The recent crackdown on scofflaw cyclists was always intended to be "a 40-day campaign to discourage them from that behavior," said Sanford.

After a two-day enforcement operation generated 204 citations for cyclists, Sanford met with San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick, as well as members of the newly-created Community Advisory Bike Board, "to hopefully change attitudes and make the road safer for everyone." Members of the CABB will meet regularly with Sanford to discuss cyclists' concerns to "see if there are any issues that we're leaving out or need to address," he said. "I believe there are going to be a lot of good things to come out of this board."

As part of his détente with bikers, Sanford has joined officers on bike patrol as well as participating in a group ride on August 20th "that was a lot of fun." Along with members of the CABB, Sanford joined mountain bike pioneer Gary Fisher "on a nice, good route that I could handle."

Officers will continue enforcement operations targeting automobiles, particularly near Fell & Masonic and Oak & Masonic. "These are two of our hot spots," said Sanford, but he also residents should "simply send us an email" if they know of other areas where safety is an ongoing concern.

In other news, Sanford said the Department of Health has held multiple briefings at Park Station to educate officers about the city's syringe access and needle-exchange programs. These briefings "are about strengthening our partnerships and allowing dialogue with officers who walk the beat," Sanford said.

Sanford said officers are vigilant about removing homeless encampments, but "as much as we clean them up, they come back." Quiet areas near Lone Mountain, Buena Vista Park, Mt. Davidson and Golden Gate Park are visited nightly, but "these are unfortunate scenes that we run into way too much," said Sanford. Officers who respond to encampments do their best to marshal resources that will clean up camps "before residents wake up."

"Even though it's not against the law to be homeless, it is illegal to set up encampments" outside of permitted areas, Sanford said, showing a photo taken Tuesday morning of a sleeping man inside a cardboard box near a school. "We want to send out a strong message that this type of behavior is not acceptable, and obviously, not healthy," said Sanford, adding that officers have received "specialized training" to help displaced people find shelters and other resources.

Sanford acknowledged that resources like shelter beds are severely constrained, but said, "if our officers observe any of this illegal activity, they are under orders to take enforcement action." He noted that his personal preference "is that we don't enforce the law but that it is more contingent on the individual involved and the resources available."

Park Station's monthly meeting takes place at 6pm on the second Tuesday of each month in the station's community room at 1899 Waller Street. The next meeting will be held on Oct. 13th.