For the second month in a row, an overflow audience filled the community room at SFPD’s Park Station last night for a monthly meeting led by Capt. John Sanford Jr.
In light of the station’s recent crackdown on quality of life issues in the Upper Haight, a large contingent of self-described “travelers“, homeless people and their advocates showed up to voice their concerns regarding the ongoing police operation. District 5 Supervisor London Breed also attended the meeting.
Sanford introduced Officer Jeff Sung, who works as part of a two-person team that works with the city’s Homeless Outreach Team to coordinate services for people violating the city’s ban on sleeping in parks and on sidewalks. “We understand homelessness is not a crime; we try to find viable solutions to get them into services, off the streets, out of doorways and off of people’s doorsteps,” said Sung.
“The problem that we’re having is that a lot of people like their style of living and don’t want to go into temporary housing or don’t like shelters,” he added. “We can’t force them to do something they’re not comfortable with.” In a few weeks, Sung said officers will give out socks and bottled water to homeless people in the district to encourage them to return home for the holidays and reconsider returning in light of gloomy El Niño weather forecasts.
Haight Street Task Force
Next, Sanford shared details about the task force that’s been focusing on quality of life issues along the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare. Launched on October 10th, the effort has seen an increase in buy-bust operations and other narcotics enforcement, but many meeting attendees expressed anger regarding their interactions with police.
“One of the first things that I was concerned about … is that when we go out and do enforcement, we go out and we do enforcement right,” said Sanford in response. “What that means is that we do not violate anyone’s civil rights. We do not violate anyone’s human rights.” Sanford stressed that police were only searching or stopping people if they had “reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”
Sanford used a projector to share photos of drugs and weapons that have been seized by task force officers, including a telescoping baton, brass knuckles and a BB gun that resembled a handgun. “If this individual was to point that gun at someone or at a police officer, they would have justification to shoot that person,” Sanford said. “It’s a very dangerous situation, and it puts everyone in jeopardy.”
Sgt. Ron Meyer, who’s been posted to Park Station since 2012, leads the task force. “In all honesty, in the Haight area, people are not willing to go into programs or take resources that are available,” he said. “I’m the enforcement arm. I’m on a high-visibility patrol, and that means I walk 8-10 miles a day, along with several other officers that work in my task force. If you’re violating the law, whatever the law is, we’ll be talking.”
“If you’ve walked on Haight Street lately, it’s extremely clear that what we’re doing is having an impact,” said Meyer, who said he only saw six people violating the sit-lie ordinance on his way to last night’s meeting. “We’ve warned a lot of people, we’ve advised a lot of people, we’ve cited a lot of people, and we’ve arrested a lot of people on warrants,” Meyer said.
Several attendees expressed anger and frustration over the task force’s crackdown, asserting that police were heavy-handed in their approach and that the laws were criminalizing homelessness. A woman with a dog who described herself as homeless said the task force was targeting people based on stereotypes, not probable cause; Meyer explained that her unlicensed dog was grounds for a stop-and-search.
“When you talk about how this has been so successful, your success is simply moving people a half block away,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness. She cited a recent survey by her group, carried out with researchers from the UC Berkeley Center on Human Rights, that determined that only 9 percent of homeless San Franciscans “moved indoors the last time they were forced to move.”
Friedenbach said that charging homeless people with citations negatively impacts their ability to get into a shelter or affordable housing. “Your efforts here are counterproductive to solving homelessness,” she said, noting that the agencies and services that serve the needs of homeless San Franciscans are strained beyond capacity.
Friedenbach added that her organization’s survey “found high levels of unlawful searches” and people who are being punished for “sleeping, resting, sitting or being too poor to afford a place to live.” (Friedenbach will also be present at tomorrow’s HANC meeting on homelessness at the Park Branch library at 7pm, along with former homeless czar Bevan Dufty.)
Sanford urged anyone with a complaint to contact the Office of Citizen Complaint or to contact him directly to discuss their experience. “You have a right to file that complaint,” he added.
Marc Massarewah, an Assistant District Attorney assigned to Park District, explained that most of the cases generated by the Haight Street task force will go to a quality of life court that’s not staffed by his office. “The cases that come to our office are cases where a person has committed a further crime beyond a quality life crime, or cases where a person has committed a public nuisance,” said Massarweh.
According to Massarewah, the DAs who prosecute these cases prioritize treatment and services over incarceration, but “if that person who’s been arrested or cited doesn’t want to participate in that, then the only other recourse for our office is to go the regular criminal route.”
Park Station Adopts Slack
Sergeant Francis Feliciano announced that Park Station has started using team collaboration tool Slack to optimize real-time communication between officers and the district’s residents and merchants. To join Park Station’s Slack team, interested parties should email francis [DOT] feliciano [AT] sfgov [DOT] org and specify which neighborhood they live in.
Feliciano said he, Sanford and other officers will be watching individual Slack channels on an ongoing basis so they can receive and respond to timely information from residents. “We’ve developed channels to make sure your messages go directly to us,” said Feliciano. “We’re still looking for more creative ways to communicate with the community all of the time,” said Sanford.
Automobile break-ins and thefts continue to be the most popular types of crime in Park District, which encompasses Duboce Park, Lower Haight, Upper Haight, Divisadero, Cole Valley, the eastern end of Golden Gate Park and most of the Inner Sunset. In the last year, SFPD reports there’ve been 87 robberies, 440 cars have been stolen and 1,083 vehicles have been broken into, a 46 percent increase over 2014.
The station’s traffic operations resulted in 380 citations during the month of October; after targeting specific intersections for Focus on the Five violations, district officers issued citations for running stop signs, failure to yield to pedestrians, cell phone usage and other violations.
Before the meeting concluded, Breed said discussions about quality of life along Haight Street aren’t intended to single out a specific group or stereotype everyone who spends time on the street and in Golden Gate Park. “We have some individuals who are making the quality of life for folks really unbearable,” she said, noting that “we need to do a better job as a city” when it comes to providing homeless services.
“I grew up born and raised in this district and have spent a lot of time over the years in the Haight, and I feel the city has dropped the ball on a lot of different things,” said Breed. “We have got to do something different; the process that’s happening now isn’t working, it’s broken.” If agencies and entities that currently receive city funds aren’t meeting the demand, “we need to be taking money away from those services” and redirecting it to groups like Taking It To The Streets “that actually provide housing.”
“I want us to do better and make sure that the money is going to the services that are actually delivering,” said Breed. “Right now, there are millions of dollars being spent on services that are not actually delivered.”
The next Park Station community meeting will be on Tuesday, December 8th at 6 pm at 1899 Waller St.