July 25th, 2013
The Bay Area Reporter
By any measure, the crime situation in the Castro isn't acceptable. On a regular basis, we hear about neighbors and visitors being robbed - often at gunpoint - beaten, stabbed, and otherwise victimized. Some of the crimes appear to be anti-LGBT hate crimes, some not. Whatever the motivation and whatever form they take, they need to stop, and we need to work to reduce violence in our neighborhood. While living in a city always entails the possibility of crime, we should not have to be fearful walking through our own neighborhood.
The Castro isn't alone in this trend, particularly robberies. Throughout the city - and in other cities - robberies are up, in significant part because of the lucrative market in stolen electronic devices. While we all need to be more careful about walking around on our phones - and I include myself in that category - even if you don't have your phone out, criminals may assume that you have one in your bag. Our district attorney, George Gasc--n, and our chief of police, Greg Suhr, have been national leaders in calling on the cellphone industry to enable phones to be "bricked" (permanently disabled) upon being stolen. This technology would drain the swamp for stolen phones and reduce the incentive to commit these robberies.
Of course, the Castro is different from other neighborhoods in many respects, including our continuing history of gay bashings. The Castro also hosts large street events, such as Pink Saturday, which has had public safety challenges. (We all owe the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence a big "thank you" for managing Pink Saturday year after year, with all the challenges it brings.)
Our police department works very hard to address these crimes aggressively, but the department is short-staffed. Full police staffing in San Francisco is 1,971 officers, but for years, policymakers at City Hall, during bad budget times, failed to fund police academy classes, and as a result the department shrunk to approximately 1,700 officers. This 300-officer shortage has profound citywide impacts, including fewer officers walking beats and longer response times. During my first year on the Board of Supervisors in 2011, as a member of the budget committee, I joined with Supervisors David Chiu and Carmen Chu to force a police academy class into the budget - the first academy class in years. Since then, the mayor and the Board have agreed to fund three academy classes a year until we reach full police staffing, probably in 2017 or 2018.
Until that point, the police department and the community need to be very smart in our use of resources and work closely with one another. The department needs to continue and grow its focus on the Castro and surrounding neighborhoods. The Castro is divided into three police precincts - Mission, Park, and Northern stations. We share each station with neighborhoods whose public safety needs are significant, including gang problems. We share Mission Station with the Mission, Northern Station with the Western Addition, and Park Station with the Haight and Western Addition.
The Castro, however, has public safety needs as well, and we must work closely with the police to ensure that the neighborhood is receiving the focus it deserves. The police have done significant work in the Castro, including tracking crime trends real-time and deploying officers to address those needs. The department uses plainclothes officers regularly, so not seeing officers in uniform doesn't mean that officers aren't in the neighborhood. But, the department needs to do more.
Yet, it's not all on the police. We, as a community, need to look out for our neighbors and ourselves. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is report every single crime, even if you think it's not worth reporting or that nothing will happen. Minor assaults, failed robberies, auto break-ins - we must report all of them. Even if nothing happens and even if an officer doesn't respond, these reports go into the department's computer tracking system and allow police to make informed decisions about officer deployment.
We also all need to be involved. Every block should be organized into a neighborhood watch. SF SAFE ( http://www.sfsafe.org) is a city-funded organization that trains neighbors on how to avoid crime, keep our homes safe, and organize effectively as a block. Castro Community on Patrol (http://www.castropatrol.org), which we organized in 2006 after a series of street rapes of gay men, does great work patrolling and educating, and it needs more volunteers. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have an innovative program called Stop the Violence (http://www.thesisters.org) to increase safety awareness and create safe spaces.
This Wednesday, July 31 at 6:30 p.m. at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, I'll be convening a Castro-area public safety forum. Chief Suhr and District Attorney Gasc--n will personally be there, as will our neighborhood's district captains and community groups. The forum will present an opportunity for the police, at the highest levels, to tell the community what the department is doing to improve our safety, to receive feedback, and for all of us to discuss what we can do to help.
The Castro's crime situation is a major challenge, but we don't need to be helpless. Working together with law enforcement and our neighbors, we can make our community a safer place.
Scott Wiener represents District 8 on the Board of Supervisors. In 2006, Wiener co-founded Castro Community on Patrol with other neighborhood activists. EVRC is located at 100 Collingwood Street.
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