Community Members Weigh-in during SFPD’s Citywide Public Safety Meeting

At Chief William Scott’s Virtual Citywide Public Safety Meeting June 14, the San Francisco Police Department’s (SFPD) leadership weren’t the only ones who weighed-in on safety issues of concern in San Francisco. After hearing from the chief and his Command staff, community members had an opportunity to have their own questions answered by SFPD leadership during various breakout sessions.

Here’s a sampling of some of the issues raised by San Francisco residents that evening.

Community member, Derek, who works with the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said a lot of churches are grappling with how to handle parishioners who refuse to mask up (given it’s hard to determine who is and who is not vaccinated in groups) out of concern for everyone. Derek asked, if there’s no cooperation, what are the SFPD’s best recommendations?

Commander Peter Walsh responded to Derek’s inquiry by saying the department has wrestled with this topic for all places of worship in the city. “We are very much into having…the clergy, the staff deal with this situation” rather than the SFPD because it’s “not a good thing for police to come into a church,” said the commander. He suggested deescalating the situation by preparing in advance by designating a section of the church for people without masks or by accommodating those people with outside seating using speakers to share the mass. He also suggested having masks on hand to give to people who aren’t wearing them and notifying parishioners in advance via email or in the church bulletin about the church’s mask wearing expectations.

Another community member, Brian, asked the SFPD what the community can do to deter crimes—and mentioned garage break-ins as a particular concern in his neighborhood in the Ingleside District. Captain Timothy Falvey, who heads up the Southern Station and who used to be captain of the Ingleside Station, started by outlining key garage safety tips, such as tying the emergency release cord so it can’t be reached by breaking a garage window to release the door. He also mentioned SF SAFE as a resource equipped with numerous safety-centric materials on its website, as well as staff who can do home and business security assessments or help community members set up a Neighborhood Watch Group. Captain Falvey additionally spoke about the importance of lighting as a crime deterrent, both on the street and around the home, and making sure that bushes or trees are trimmed so they don’t obstruct the lighting.

“I think the best way to start that journey to reducing crime is to reach out to SF SAFE,” said Captain Falvey.

The same community member also brought up shoplifting at Walgreens in his neighborhood that has resulted the store closing early, and asked what the SFPD is doing to stem that. Captain Falvey said they have an Organized Retail Theft Unit that they participate with that’s like a Regional Task Force, and that shoplifting of a certain dollar amount is investigated by the SFPD’s Burglary Unit—part of which is dedicated to retail theft. He also highlighted that the department frequently speaks with the regional directors and security managers of some of these store chains to discuss “some of the things we can do to improve our response times because it’s really about us getting there in time.” This can happen, in part, by the SFPD being notified as soon as a repeat shoplifting offender walks in the door of a store.

Captain David Maron of the Bayview Station also chimed in, saying that if staffing permits, pushing for more foot beats can be a big help when it comes to retail theft. “I think just seeing the uniformed officer out there is a deterrent for people that want to go in and shoplift,” he said. Captain Maron also added that communicating with neighbors via email is another good tactic so that everyone is in the loop on what’s going on in the neighborhood—which can lead to security footage, photos and the like.

Community member Lynn, who works with Comprehensive Crisis Services in the Bayview Plaza, spoke about staff members being frightened when they

sometimes have to meet at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. since they operate 24/7. “Going in and out of the office is very scary” she said, noting that the same holds true even in the daytime since the homeless population “has taken over.” Aside from that, Lynn said people have experienced a lot of vehicle break-ins.

Captain Maron said he would like to go out to Bayview Plaza and see what the lighting looks like and look at other ways to secure that area. He also said people can call the Bayview Station to have a unit go by to ensure people get in-and-out of their office safely and that it will take more work from the police community to see if there is another place homeless people can go to stay overnight rather than the Plaza. Lynn responded by confirming that the lighting is bad at the Plaza and by asking for more patrols there. The captain and Lynn agreed to meet offline so that they can further discuss the issue.

These diverse issues raised by San Francisco community members during the Virtual Citywide Public Safety Meeting are a small sampling of topics discussed that evening. Chief Scott and his SFPD Command staff plan to host these meetings on a monthly basis; watch SF SAFE’s or the SFPD’s social media accounts for more info about dates/times.

-Kathy Chouteau