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Crime wave: Residents nervous, city plans more police

Will additional police officers stem an uptick in property crime in the city?

The e-mail was forwarded to about a dozen recipients, including the Marina Times. It related an attempted assault in the stairway of a Cow Hollow building. The unnamed writer said the same thing happened to a female friend just a few days earlier and that police officers had said there had been 15 assaults in the past week in the same area.

Fearful residents packed an early June community meeting with law enforcement officials, where they were told that the reports of a wave of assaults in the neighborhood — first reported on the Nextdoor.com website — weren’t real. Police knew of 2 cases, but they hadn’t heard of 15. Nervousness about crime appears to have inflated reports, which in turn were shared in the rumor mill.

“I would really encourage … you [to] report things to us,” San Francisco Police Department Captain Simon Silverman told the neighbors at the June meeting. “Don’t just report it on Nextdoor.com to your neighbors, because we need to be able to do something about it.” Silverman also cautioned people against believing everything they read online; even if the posting of rumors was done with the best of intentions, it can actually hinder the promotion of safety.

For residents looking for information on actual crimes, they can get it directly from the SFPD. If those 15 assaults didn’t all happen, there is still plenty of crime taking place in the city to make people wary, and in particular, burglaries and car thefts are on the rise. For example, just in the Central District police reports for the day of March 13, there were eight thefts (mostly from vehicles), a vehicle vandalized, the arrest of someone on an outstanding warrant, a commercial burglary, and a narcotics arrest. (You can subscribe to the Northern Station newsletter at sf-police.org/index.aspx?page=825 and the Central Station newsletter at sf-police.org/index.aspx?page=805.)

“Robberies, car thefts, and thefts from automobiles are up citywide and in the Northern District through May of this year,” Northern Station Captain Greg McEachern told the Marina Times. He said that the biggest increases are in robberies and thefts from automobiles (up 27 percent and 45 percent, respectively in the city and up 21 percent and 69 percent in the Northern District.) Burglaries in the city dropped by 7 percent and in the Northern District by 13 percent. “Though robberies are up citywide and in the northern district year to date, in the Marina and Cow Hollow areas we have not seen an increase. Thefts from automobiles, however, is different. Last year through the first five months of the year, the entire Northern District saw 1,146 thefts from automobiles. This year, through the first five months the entire Northern District has seen 1,933 thefts from automobiles.”

McEachern added that many of those crimes occurred in the tourist and commercial areas of the Marina and Cow Hollow, such as the Palace of Fine Arts, motel and restaurant parking lots around Lombard Street, and in public parking garages near commercial corridors.

“Northern Station uniformed officers and our plain clothes street crimes units have conducted numerous undercover operations to detect and apprehend criminals who break into automobiles,” McEachern said. “Through the first four months of the year, Northern Station personnel have made more arrests than any other station in the city for this type of crime and have arrested more than 80 offenders year-to-date. What we often find is that the perpetrators of these crimes are highly organized, often in groups of more than three individuals, and use vehicles for transportation for quick access and escape from the area.” He said his officers will continue these operations throughout the remainder of the year.

As certain crimes have increased in number in San Francisco, the city’s police force has actually decreased in size over the past five years, falling from 1,951 full-duty officers in 2010 to 1,730 today. “San Francisco is growing, yet we have fewer officers today than when we were a smaller city,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener. “We’ve grown by about 100,000 people and have neighborhoods that didn’t exist before, yet our department has shrunk. We need to re-staff the department and update our staffing goals to take our growth into account. We need more police out on the streets walking beats, enforcing traffic laws, and responding to the rising number of crimes in our neighborhoods.”

Plans to increase the police force have been developing for some time. In April, Wiener noted that in the 2015-16 fiscal year, the city would fund five police academy classes instead of the three it had been funding. “Five academy classes equates to training 250 new officers,” Wiener said. “Our police department is hundreds of officers short of where we need to be for our growing city. It’s not acceptable that we have fewer officers now than we had 10 years ago.”

In June, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution sponsored by supervisors Wiener, Mark Farrell, and Malia Cohen to increase police staffing levels to keep pace with population growth. District Two Supervisor Mark Farrell, who also serves as chair of the budget committee, reports that the city budget for next year would add 400 officers to the police force and an additional 36 dispatchers to the city’s 9-1-1 system to improve emergency response. (See page 7.)

Northern Station has already seen a bit of a recovery in its personnel levels. “With the newest academy class graduation, we received nine new officers, which brought our staffing level above 110 officers,” said McEachern. “As we move through the summer and into next year, new academy graduates will increase this number back toward the 140 officers Northern Station had back in 2010.

“What this will mean to the community is increased officers in marked police cars able to respond to calls for service; increased street crimes undercover officers to conduct enforcement operations for crimes such as burglaries, robberies and thefts from autos; increased homeless outreach officers; increased school resource officers; increased traffic officers; and most important, in my opinion, increased foot beat officers in our community including in the Marina and Cow Hollow communities,” said McEachern.

According to a June report on police staffing from San Francisco’s Office of the Controller, “San Francisco’s total crime rate (violent and property) per resident and daytime population in 2013 was second highest among its … peers. While San Francisco’s violent crime rate falls in the middle of its peers and is only slightly above the national average for cities with populations over 350,000, its property crime rate is second highest, only lower than Oakland, in the survey group.” From February 2014 to February 2015 in the Northern District alone, auto thefts increased by 33 percent, thefts from autos by 55 percent, and arson by 80 percent. Residents are clearly concerned, even without misleading viral e-mails.

McEachern echoed Silverman’s plea for residents to report crimes and suspicious activity they see: “If we don’t know that a crime is occurring or may occur, it’s much more difficult to prevent the crime and apprehend the criminals. The community is our best eyes and ears when it comes to crime.”

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