Your Bernal Heights Crime Report for April 2013: Cars and Cellphones Are Crime Magnets, and Let’s Meet a City Code Enforcement Attorney

These have been difficult days for the automobiles of Bernal Heights (and the citizens who love them). On Twitter and various neighborhood mailing lists, your neighbors have been emitting electronic shrieks of despair at the number of smashed car windows seen in Bernal Heights, particularly on the northern and eastern slopes.

Rest assured, this is not just perception; it’s a statistical reality, as Neighbor Sarah, Bernalwood’s valiant liaison to the SFPD’s Indleside Station, documents here in her monthly crime summary. As always, Ye Citizens of Bernalwood are strongly strongly strongly encouraged to read Neighbor Sarah’s report in its entirety, because the information you will learn here could save you much heartache and many hundreds of dollars later.

Notes from SFPD Ingleside Station Community Meeting, 4/16/13

Captain Tim Falvey presided.

CRIME STATS FOR Q1 2013:

Big increase vs. 2012, led by cell phone robberies.

In Q1, 57% of robberies had a cell phone involved. In 25% of robberies, a cell phone was the ONLY thing taken. 34% of robberies involve iPhones specifically.

iPhones remain easy to resell and convert into cash. Carrying an iPhone 5 in the open is like visibly carrying $300 cash.

The police have focused their resources on the areas where there are the most robberies, often transit hubs.

Robbery arrests are up 100% vs. the same period in 2012.

Burglaries are up 20%, and burglary arrests are up 156%. The first quarter saw a trend of burglars getting into the house via stolen garage-door openers. Do NOT leave these in your car, ever. Your car also contains your registration papers, which have your address on them.

Car thefts are up 10%. 47% of cars stolen in the district are pre-2001 Hondas and Acuras because shaved keys work in the ignition. Consider getting your ignition re-keyed ($150-200) or at least use a club-like device. Even better are the newer ones that go around the gas pedal. Post-2001 Hondas are only 4% of stolen cars – Honda changed the lock system in 2001. Most thieves are joyriding and will just move on to the next car if yours is made a bit more difficult to break into. If all the cars in a neighborhood are difficult, they will move on to another neighborhood.

The same thing goes for auto break-ins. They are up quite a bit. Much of it is scavenging in cars because enough people are leaving computers, garage-door openers, etc. in their cars to make this sort of fishing worthwhile to the thieves. One major area for car break-ins has been Precita Park and up the hill (east slope of Bernal), and police have been directing resources there. Also many car break-ins in the Excelsior.

Reminder: call the police if you see someone breaking into cars, even if it is not your car! One officer had two different people in the Precita area tell him that they had seen someone breaking into cars but hadn’t called it in because it wasn’t their car being broken into. In general, if you see something going on and aren’t sure if it’s a crime or not, call the police and let them sort it out.

Robberies are down in the first half of April (8 total). Over past five months, 64% of robberies have occurred in the second half of the month. Police are not sure why.

GUEST SPEAKER: JENNIFER CHOI DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY of Code Enforcement for the Ingleside and Southern Police Districts. (Jennifer.Choi@sfgov.org)

There are 150 attorneys in the office, led by Dennis Herrera. One or more attorneys are assigned to every city agency. She is one of the attorneys focused on Code Enforcement.

The District Attorney’s office deals with criminal law; the City Attorney deals with civil codes. Another way to think of it is DA prosecutions can result in jail. City Attorney lawsuits can result in money being paid. Some people are more afraid of losing money than they are of being sentenced to jail time.

The goal of Code Enforcement is to “abate public nuisances.” What is a public nuisance? There’s a spectrum, but it involves violations of the various city codes – public health, fire, building, planning, etc. Almost every neighborhood has at least one major “problem house” – there may be criminal activity occurring, but it’s hard for the police to catch it in progress, and so the City Attorney can often help if there are also code violations occurring (which there often are).

Most complaints referred to the City Attorney on a day-to-day basis can be solved by referring each to the proper agency. For example, a badly overgrown yard would be referred to the Department of Public Health for follow-up. Peeling lead paint could be referred to DPH or the Department of Building Inspections.

Sometimes – maybe 5% of the time – the property owner will not fix whatever the problem is. The issue would then be referred back to the City Attorney, which can issue citations/fines or even sue the property owner. As with criminal cases, EVIDENCE is very important – the City Attorney has to have a paper trail to present in order to sue. You have to “start generating paper” on a problem property. This means complaints to the police or relevant agencies. The City Attorney “is only as good as the evidence.”

Typically, the situations that result in lawsuits are severe. I’m not going to list all of the addresses that came up in the meeting here (in case that would jeopardize any criminal investigations or lawsuits), but I’ll share some qualitative examples from the meeting.

One that I can share is 277 Arlington, which is in Glen Park. It was a single-family residence that had been illegally converted into four units and was occupied by squatters. The property had been foreclosed upon and was owned by a bank that was doing nothing to maintain it. Neighbors reported problems with drug dealing, drug use, and related activity. The City Attorney compiled a great deal of evidence (on, among other things, the number of times the police had to visit the property), and they threatened to sue. The bank acquiesced and sued each of the “tenants” to get them out.

Several people at the meeting knew about a blighted house in the Crocker-Amazon area. Ms. Choi agreed that it was one of the worst examples of blight in the city. The house is unoccupied, boarded up, and often covered in graffiti. (I looked it up on Google Street View and can confirm that it is really something to behold.) The issue is apparently that DBI keeps issuing permits for the owner to do the work required to bring it up to code, but then the owner never does the work. The permit expires, and the owner gets a new permit from DBI. The City Attorney is trying to get DBI to stop issuing permits if the work is never performed because they cannot sue until the owner is in violation. This has been going on for years.

There are other houses the City Attorney is working on in the Ingleside, including one in Bernal Heights. The problems with these houses include operating as an illegal SRO hotel (one small house seems to have 17+ people living in it), severe hoarding/cluttering, illegal work or failure to do work on unsafe structures, and more.

Individuals can also be sued for being public nuisances, though this is rare. One case they almost brought was a man in the Bayview who deliberately bothered his neighbors by placing massive speakers outside and blaring music at them. Just before the lawsuit was to be filed, he was arrested on a criminal charge for something else.

The City Attorney has also worked on closing down smoke shops that were selling crack pipes, gang injunctions to prevent known, active gang members (she again emphasized the need to compile lots of evidence) from associating with one another in a given territory, and drug abatement actions (suing property owners and tenants for operating a “house of drugs” – in the Tenderloin, they sued two stores that were harboring drug dealers). They also got a big settlement out of a payday-loan company.

Finally, she brought up the City Attorney’s new smartphone app, Up2Code. This allows users to submit complaints about code violations, as well as upload photos of the violations, from their phones. Ms. Choi said that the Ingleside District is the most active so far and that the City Attorney’s office has been “inundated.”

I have downloaded the app, and it’s a very good app and easy to use – almost too easy. For example, you could envision neighbors (or anyone who might have a resentment toward someone else) submitting one complaint after another to harass someone. I asked her how they triage the more important complaints from the more minor ones, as well as how they avoid getting involved in interpersonal disputes. She said they do usually get to the bottom of it, and it sometimes happened anyway with the old-fashioned complaint hotline. Their hope is that the app will get people who wouldn’t otherwise submit reports to do so.

Since the meeting, I have done an informal and totally unscientific study of the complaints submitted to Up2Code (which you can view from the website). The majority of complaints seem to be things that I would characterize as 311 complaints – graffiti and dumping. So, thus far, it doesn’t seem as if people are anonymously informing on their neighbors for every possible code violation, so perhaps this concern is unfounded (though perhaps the concern should be that the City Attorney is spending time on 311 issues). I’d love to hear what the community thinks. Is it exciting that a city agency has adopted user-friendly technology? Or is it a worrisome embrace of the same Internet anonymity that makes the comments sections of blogs, articles, etc. so hateful? Discuss.

GUEST SPEAKERS:

Mike Kenna and Dan Kling from Recology

You get two free Recycle My Junk pickups per year – call 330-1300 to schedule them (they’ll usually happen within a few days after your call, except just after Christmas, when they need more time to schedule since many trucks are booked for picking up Christmas trees). You can also call them to pick up abandoned junk.

A few questions from the audience –

Do you have to wash out your recyclables? Please wash out – some stuff left inside is OK. Issue is that dripping stuff ruins the recyclable paper.

Where does fabric go? Black bin/landfill.

Where do packing peanuts go? UPS or FedEx stores.

Who gets the compost? Regular giveaways to public, and many Napa vineyards use it.

What do you do with paint cans? If empty (dried paint OK), can put in blue bin. Most paints can be dropped off at Cole Hardware and elsewhere; some types need to be brought to dump (enamel, for instance).

What about kids’ toys? If all hard plastic, OK to recycle. Remove metal rods. Don’t include if there’s electrical, batteries, or other non-plastic parts.

UPCOMING EVENTS:

Next meeting – Tuesday, May 21, 7pm at Ingleside Station.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

8 thoughts on “Your Bernal Heights Crime Report for April 2013: Cars and Cellphones Are Crime Magnets, and Let’s Meet a City Code Enforcement Attorney

  1. My impression is that Bernalites don’t know how to be neighbors if they watch a burglary of someone ELSE’s property and fail to call the police. People complain all the time about “lack of community”, but they can only form a community by looking out for other folks.

    • it is *amazing* to hear that people are witnessing crimes in progress (i.e. care being broken into) and NOT calling 911. I completely understand the reluctance to engage physically with someone, but to not make a phone call? Really? Sad to hear, I hope that this is merely an exception and not the rule. Have a great, sunshine-filled day!

  2. I’d like to know who to call if I see criminal or suspect behavior. It would be good to have it in my phone!

    Thanks, Pilar – bernal resident

    ________________________________

    • Crime in progress (including property crime) — call 911 (or 553-8090 from cell phone)
      Suspicious behavior (but not actually a crime in progress) — 553-0123

  3. Did anyone else on Manchester Street get a letter to bring their garbage cans inside the house (or “out-of-sight from the public right-of-way”)? Or has anyone else been served this kind of notice? My wife and I need some time to make room in the house for cans and I’m wondering how long I have until I get a fine since it’s not clear in the letter. We’ve been putting our cans out for years and have never got this kind of notice so I’m not sure what’s changed.
    Thanks

    • Unfortunately, it likely means one of your neighbors complained. You can get a waiver (from DPW, I think?) if storing them elsewhere is not possible on your property. I don’t know how long you have until you get fined.

  4. The up2code app looks pretty interesting if it works. Think I will try it on a dilapidated home on my block. Nice to have Jennifer Choi’s email address for future reference as well.
    Great post.

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