Community Police Advisory Boards: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Amid today’s challenging policing environment—that includes nationwide recruitment issues since the George Floyd incident—it’s more crucial than ever for San Francisco residents to take a participatory role in community policing.  

While there are many approaches to everyday community members engaging in community policing—i.e., working in partnership with the police—one significant way to get involved is by contacting your local SFPD station and letting them know you’re interested in serving on their Community Police Advisory Board (CPAB).

So what exactly is a CPAB? SF SAFE works with the SFPD on CPABs, which are groups of residents and business reps who assist in problem-solving surrounding crime and safety issues, and act as a “think tank” for community policing activities. Similar to SF SAFE’s Neighborhood Watch Groups, the CPABs are a way for community members to come together, problem solve and make San Francisco safer. They meet on a monthly basis with their local station and usually consist of a group of up to 15 members.

By welcoming CPAB members at their stations, the SFPD isn’t intending to assign community members, business owners or others the responsibility of policing their own neighborhood. A CPAB’s primary aim is to build safety-centric relationships between neighbors and their local station police that ultimately help inform the SFPD’s own crime-fighting strategies.

At SF SAFE’s October 2022 CPAB Symposium—which brought together the city’s CPAB members with the SFPD and DA Brooke Jenkins—Chief William Scott shared that he learned about the importance of CPABs and “partnering with the community” early in his career. He said that those in-depth conversations about how they were going to make things better resonated with him in terms of “how important it is for us to work with people in the community that we serve.” He added, “To this day, I still hold that in my heart in terms of what it really takes to police a city effectively.”

Chief Scott underscored the value of CPABs and police working together at an earlier CPAB Symposium in summer 2019. “Is it better to have a few minds of the command staff or a thousand minds focusing on a problem? I would say a thousand minds. And that’s where the relationships with the [community] come in, because when problem-solving works at its best, everyone is going to have input.”

Assistant Chief David Lazar shared one example of what teamwork between the SFPD and CPABs can result in, pointing to the SFPD Central Station CPAB having developed the well-known “Park Smart” campaign for San Francisco that advises “if you love it, don’t leave it” in your car and other sage advice.

The future of CPABs’ role in community policing was discussed at this year’s symposium. The assistant chief said he is hoping to see CPAB meetings organized so that they have annual calendars and subcommittees that report back to the group on their respective assignments. On the same front, Commander Julian Ng said that they city’s CPABs are going to get more involved in developing the SFPD’s Community Policing Plan Review via subcommittees—a key role in creating the vision for a safer San Francisco.

Want to get involved in your local CPAB? Give the gift that keeps on giving to your city and contact your local SFPD station to get started today.