After a rash of recent crimes, I have heard from countless neighbors about how they and their children don’t feel safe on the streets, on Muni, or even in their own homes. We’ve all seen the video of the Embarcadero attack, but — even in our neighborhoods — I’ve heard from people who have walked in to find a stranger in their home and whose child has been robbed at gunpoint.
We can’t leave anything visible in our cars, we can’t have packages delivered to our homes, and it’s starting to feel like we can’t even take our kids to the park without becoming victims of crime.
I have a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, and I feel all of this. My car has been broken into, my home has been burglarized, and my daughter and I have been charged at in a parking lot by someone who was clearly in crisis.
It is absolutely unacceptable for any of this to happen to anyone. We can do better to keep our community safe, and this means investing in services for those in need while making sure that we have well-trained and well-resourced law enforcement in San Francisco.
During my time on the Board of Supervisors, I have been laser-focused on public safety. The San Francisco Charter mandates that we maintain a minimum staffing level of at least 1,971 sworn officers, but even if we meet that level — and by my calculation we’re not there yet — it’s not enough.
In last year’s budget process, I successfully advocated for the addition of 250 police officers to our force. This year, when the Police Department’s budget was on the chopping block, I protected academy classes and more than $1 million to keep foot patrols on our streets. I also committed funding to bring increased public safety measures, such as surveillance cameras, to hotspots in our parks and merchant corridors.
Additionally, I’m actively exploring ways to expand the charter requirement and incentivize police hiring and retention, with the knowledge that even if we are successful in our fight to fund law enforcement, we must still work to train and maintain the best force possible.
But even when we are successful in securing the resources, too often we hear that different city departments don’t coordinate with each other to solve these problems, pursue disjointed policies, and then blame each other when conditions deteriorate.
That’s why I met with staff from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and police officers from Northern Station every week in September to walk our neighborhood merchant corridors, coordinate approaches to the public safety issues we are experiencing, and get to know those who are unhoused and in need of services.
We started on Chestnut Street, where I was joined by Northern Station Captain Joe Engler, Officer Steve Hom, as well as representatives from Homelessness and Supportive Housing. That morning, we observed no fewer than five individuals who were clearly struggling, sleeping in doorways outside of homes and small businesses. Some were just in need of a warm place to sleep, while others were clearly suffering from serious addiction and mental health issues.
The following weeks, I walked Union Street, Fillmore Street, and Divisadero Street with the Police Department, the Homelessness and Supportive Housing Department, the Homeless Outreach Team, and merchants. As a result of these coordinated walks and discussions with law enforcement, the Homeless Outreach Team has added neighborhoods in our community, including the Chestnut Street corridor, to its regular outreach strategy.
I’m pleased that our community will start to see more Homeless Outreach Team members in our neighborhoods, but we need to make structural changes as well.
The walks informed my approach to a hearing I sponsored on the progress — or lack thereof — of San Francisco’s Treatment on Demand program, which was passed by voters in 2008. The program was originally meant to ensure access to treatment and sober centers across the city, but the condition of our sidewalks and open spaces makes clear that it has not been working as planned.
In our merchant corridors, I met homeless individuals struggling with addiction and other health issues who wanted help but did not know where to turn. According to the Department of Public Health’s presentation at our hearing, overdose deaths are up, and over 3,000 people in need of treatment are not receiving it — including hundreds actively trying to receive care.
It is not acceptable that there are so many hurdles for those who need and want treatment, especially given the nature of addiction and that moment of opportunity when someone is finally willing to get help.
While I am glad that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senator Scott Wiener’s bill SB 40, to again expand the city’s ability to conserve and care for people suffering on our streets, we must continue to expand access to both voluntary services and compelled treatment.
Finally, I could not be happier with Mayor London Breed’s decision to appoint Suzy Loftus as district attorney following George Gascón’s resignation. The district attorney’s office is far too important to our safety to leave without a strong leader, and we need someone in office who will work well with our Police Department.
Suzy is a mother to three young children and has had a long career in San Francisco law enforcement as a prosecutor, attorney in the sheriff’s office, and former president of the Police Commission. As a mother and former prosecutor myself, I could not imagine a stronger district attorney to deal with the problems that we face. Suzy is ready to get to work on day one and I know she will work with our Police Department to provide the safety that is sorely lacking in our communities.