On Thursday, the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (Castro CBD) launched its new unarmed Public Safety Ambassadors program, part of its new public safety initiative.
The initiative is apart of Castro CBD's Castro Cares program. Launched in 2015, Castro Cares is a community collaborative providing supplemental homeless support and outreach services and uniformed public safety services.
The comprehensive, three-pronged program is "dedicated to improving public safety, economic vitality, and quality of life issues in the Castro/Upper Market area," said Castro CBD executive director Andrea Aiello.
The initiative will operate within the Castro CBD's footprint seven days a week, and was funded through a $413,245 grant from the San Francisco Office of Economic & Workforce Development (OEWD).
Castro CBD Public Safety Ambassador at Double Rainbow Ice Cream. | Photo: Castro CBD/Facebook
As previously reported by Hoodline, the new pilot Public Safety Ambassadors program is similar to ones that can currently be found in the Union Square BID, East Cut CBD, and Uptown-Oakland Downtown CBD.
Funding for the program was allocated by the Board of Supervisors through an additional OEWD grant during the budgetary add-back process in September. The pilot program has been funded for two years; $195,000 for fiscal year 2020-2021 and $200,000 for fiscal year 2021-2022.
Not to be confused with Castro CBD's Ambassador program, Aiello says, "Public Safety Ambassadors are unarmed personnel trained in de-escalation strategies, crisis intervention, and social service outreach."
Public Safety Ambassadors will offer foot and bicycle patrols by unarmed security guards Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. "The foot patrols will be a uniformed presence in the district acting to deter crime, address quality of life issues, and be an extra set of eyes and ears in the neighborhood during the day," said Aiello.
The Castro CBD is also expanding its partnership with the San Francisco Patrol Special Police (Patrol Special). While previously on the chopping block due to budget constraints, in September the Castro CBD was notified it secured the $215,000 Castro Cares grant, however, Patrol Special funding was in jeopardy as the CBD discussed how it wanted to allocate the funds.
Patrol Special officers will provide foot and vehicle patrols by uniformed armed officers. Patrol Special officers are scheduled to work overnight Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. and Sunday and Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
SF Patrol Special Police Officer Cody Clements (center) with two Safety Ambassadors. | Photo: Castro CBD
Services provided by Patrol Special and Public Safety Ambassadors include: check-ins with merchants, well-being checks with the most vulnerable, enforcement of MPC No-Trespassing, deterring negative street behavior, assistance and referral to services to those in need, collaboration with city departments to resolve street-level issues and concerns, hospitality services to visitors, responding to calls for service and collaboration with Castro CBD Clean Team.
"They will also provide assurance to visitors, residents, and merchants that there is a visible public safety component in the district in close communication with the SFPD, the Healthy Streets Operations Center, and our other city partners," said Aiello.
Since launching six years ago, Aiello says Castro Cares has pivoted to meet the needs of the neighborhood. "Now during this pandemic, issues have really escalated, in response, more of our funding is going towards public safety services," said Aiello.
For the unacquainted, the Castro CBD is funded through an assessment fee on property owners in its designated area, based on a formula calculated using linear frontage, building square footage, and lot size. The CBD then uses that money to clean and brighten the neighborhood, promote public safety, and lobby for larger, city-funded improvements.
Castro Safety Ambassadors along 17th St. | Photo: Castro CBD/Facebook
Compared to 2019, burglaries in the Mission Police District (which includes the Castro) are up 78.6%. Vehicle thefts are up 36.5%, and arsons are up 93.5%. Not every crime category has increased — assaults and robberies are down, likely due to fewer people getting out and about during shelter-in-place.
“The Castro Public Safety Ambassadors will provide a rapid non-police response for the neighborhood and will help make it safer and more welcoming for everyone," said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. "I was glad to work with the Castro CBD to secure the funding for this pilot program in the City budget and am eager to see the Public Safety Ambassadors on the streets of the Castro.”
The final component is a partnership with the Downtown Streets Team (DST) which empowers unhoused individuals to be part of the solution. "DST team members participate in a volunteer work-experience program Monday through Friday afternoons participate in a volunteer work-experience program, Monday through Friday afternoons, beautifying and cleaning the district while receiving basic needs stipends to cover food, hygiene, bills, etc.," explained Aiello.
Castro CBD boundary map. | Image: Castro CBD
"Additionally, team members receive services to help them achieve full employment and housing," added Aiello. This additional service is in addition to the Castro CBD's standard cleaning services which operates seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“This generous grant from OEWD allows us to supplement the great work the City does with resources dedicated specifically to the Castro to address the needs of our residents, business owners, and visitors," said Aiello. "Castro Cares is just one more step the Castro CBD is taking to improve the neighborhood for everyone and help us recover as quickly as possible from this devastating pandemic."
"The extra set of eyes, ears, and boots on the ground will help assure visitors using the shared spaces and outdoor dining that the Castro is clean and safe," said Aiello.
The new public safety initiative is separate from a proposal the Castro CBD is currently considering accepting a $695,000 grant from tech entrepreneur Chris Larsen to install in a private network of 125 security cameras. Larsen would also be contributing $50,000 to the Castro CBD Public Safety Ambassadors program. The deadline to fill out the security camera survey is set to end on February 8. A date for the town hall meeting has not been set.