Supervisor Melgar’s Public Safety Town Hall
••••••• May 12, 2023 •••••••
On 4/26/23 some 200 District-7 residents packed St. Brendan’s Church Hall to hear what Supervisor Myrna Melgar, Police Chief William Scott, Assistant Chief David Lazar, and DA Brooke Jenkins were doing about crime and disorder on the Westside. The mood of the attendees ranged from concerned to irate. Would this gathering reduce local crime-anxieties? Father Mike Quinn helped with his welcoming remarks. Construing the crowd as a potential flock, he invited folks to Sunday Mass! Laughter ensued.
The gathering was co-hosted by the Miraloma Park Improvement Club, the West Portal Merchants Association, the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People, and the Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association.
The meeting drew a big contingent of police officers and brass, including Captain Jack Hart from Park Station, Captain Robert Yick and Acting Captain Pengel from Taraval Station, and Captain Derrick Lew from Ingleside Station. Introductory remarks by the panelists were followed by a Q& A session. The arrangement was dicey because the meeting lasted just one hour. However, folks were invited to mingle with the panelists afterward. More than anything, Supervisor Melgar’s panelists had to allay fears by demonstrating responsiveness - and confidence.
Show of Confidence
Police Chief William Scott acknowledged that “we have some challenges”; mainly, the shortage of police officers. Accordingly, the SFPD has to “shift resources to cover crises," like the Tenderloin's fentanyl crisis, and to “do the best we can with what we have." Another impediment was the “toxic climate” that enveloped policing in recent years. Demoralization precipitated early retirements and other departures. But “things are looking up" Scott declared. For example, community demands for more policing have helped. So have a Board-approved salary raise for cops, along with a budget supplement for overtime. Chief Scott assured the audience that “solid strategies are in place” to deal with rising property crimes.
DA Brooke Jenkins noted that “each community has its own set of concerns." Therefore, she likes to hear from residents to guide her priorities. She affirmed that public safety has always been her “number one priority” throughout her terms in the sex crimes, felony, and homicide divisions. Jenkins emphasized that her job is “to enforce laws thoughtfully." Because the DA relies on cops to arrest offenders, a close partnership with SFPD is essential. That wasn’t happening when she took office, she observed. But a “closer collaboration” has been achieved and arrests have improved. However, “around the clock efforts are needed” to combat retail theft, drug dealing, and assaults targeting elders and the Asian community. DA Jenkins indicated she’s working on it.
Assistant Chief David Lazar oversees SFPD Operations. He assured the audience that he appreciated their concerns because he was “born and raised” in D-7. He lives here and feels the impact of local crimes. That includes being a car break-in victim. Lazar sounded a note of optimism because the SFPD enjoys the “best relationship with the DA I’ve seen in 30 years."
Questions & Answers
The first question was about the looting at Walgreens, Safeway and retail stores. Supervisor Melgar said she worked to deter thefts by bringing the Ambassador Program to West Portal and Irving Street. Captain Hart explained that SFPD is proactively placing police officers inside stores – something that hadn’t been done before. Arrests for retail thefts now occur within stores. Plus, the SFPD is working with the DA to issue Stay Away Orders to offenders.
Brooke Jenkins reported that her office engages the retail community to determine; “how we got to this place, and how to get past it”. She noted that previously, stores had Loss Prevention workers who would detain culprits. Now, “do not confront or detain” policies are in place to protect employees from violent resistance. So, the job must be done by in-store police. She also noted that Prop 47 had eliminated a clause that had allowed prior petty theft arrests to escalate penalties for new thefts. Therefore, that aspect of Prop 47 should be revised to effectively prosecute repeat offenders. Asst. Chief David Lazar added that if a theft occurs by force or fear, it is a robbery - a felony.
Several questions had to do with unruly campers parking their vehicles in residential areas. Supervisor Melgar said she was working with the Department of Homelessness to transition these campers - some of whom are families with children - into permanent housing. She has also enlisted the SFMTA to limit parking in these areas to 4 hours - and to enforce these limits.
Community groups are now mobilizing to ensure their neighborhoods are safe and flourishing ... grassroots anti-crime and pro-accountability organizing could imperil elected officials who can’t get a handle on the disorder afflicting their constituents. ”
One exasperated resident wanted to know what was being done about the scourge of graffiti. Police Chief Scott acknowledged that “graffiti is exploding all over, even though we’re making arrests." Part of the problem is that taggers work under the cover of darkness. Also, their tags are a point of pride. DA Jenkins said that “previously, graffiti wasn’t prosecuted." She has restored graffiti prosecutions and enlisted the Department of Public Works to assess the value of the property damages, thereby building stronger cases. Supervisor Melgar stated that she persuaded the City to fund graffiti removal for “small businesses who were getting tagged every night” and couldn’t keep up with required eradications.
Youth Crime and Violence
What is the City’s approach to young offenders? DA Jenkins emphasized that “We need to create hope in kids. Some feel they have nothing to lose." She is seeing “more serious crimes by young kids." So we need both prevention and consequences. The DA's office is building a holistic approach with the Superintendant of Schools to include both thoughtful interventions and preventive measures. Chief Scott added that the SFPD received a $6 million grant for youth violence interruption, life coaching, rehabilitation and family engagement. So far, hopeful results in 100 cases. He emphasized that diversion must include accountability and said the DA provides a post-arrest program with these features.
Police Goals and Incentives
One participant questioned who decides on policing goals, and what incentivizes police officers to keep the public safe. Chief Scott said that policies, supervision and disciplinary processes regulate officer performance. Now that officers carry body cameras, supervisors can assess what they do. Also, supervisors review complaints, but given 300,000 police calls annually, far less than 1% are problematic. Mostly, cops want to serve the community. Chief Scott concluded with; "Appreciation is an incentive in itself…Let cops know you appreciate them." DA Jenkins inserted that cops are incentivized by; “wanting to make a difference and knowing that the DA will back them." She visited every precinct to assure officers that they are appreciated. And, arrests have gone up.
Tips for Homeowners
Asst. Chief Lazar ended the evening with tips for staying safe.
- Don’t leave belongings in a parked car
- Don’t leave garage opener in cars
- Safeguard garage doors so burglars can’t access the opening mechanism
- Install video cameras and alarms
- Contact SFSAFE for a free home or business security survey
The heavy police presence plus the openness and confidence of the speakers allayed community worries. Trust was restored – for the time being.
Loss of Trust
Community groups are now mobilizing to ensure their neighborhoods are safe and flourishing. The Westside Observer has covered such efforts by TogetherSF Action and Stop Crime SF. This phenomenon indicates a loss of trust in City government. Outside St.Brendan’s, a nascent community group called “Sensible D-7” handed out leaflets. They were invitations to join “a coalition of neighbors on the West Side” focused on “increased public safety, cleaner streets, better city services, accountability on spending from City Hall and responsible growth in our district…” Such grassroots anti-crime and pro-accountability organizing could imperil elected officials who can’t get a handle on the disorder afflicting their constituents.
Dr. Derek Kerr is a San Francisco investigative reporter for the Westside Observer and a member of SPJ-NorCal. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org