Everything You Need to Know About Personal Safety and Crime Prevention in Bernal Heights


Neighbor Sarah was a co-organizer of the SFSafe Safety Workshop that took place the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center on October 24. If you weren’t able to attend, you’re still in luck, because Neighbor Sarah also typed up some mighty impressive notes.

This is one of the most comprehensive and detailed safety summaries we’ve ever published on Bernalwood, so you are strongly advised to read it thoroughly, print it out for easy reference, and share it with your friends, family, and occasional lovers:

SFSAFE WORKSHOP, 10/24/13 at Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center

We had a good crowd of about 50 Bernal residents (and a few from other neighborhoods) attending.  Thank you to Darcy and Heartfelt for providing awesome refreshments and to Dropcam for donating the camera that was raffled off.

Key Principle: Never ignore your “6th sense” when it comes to personal safety. Pay attention to that knot in your stomach or the feeling of your hair raising.

Second Key Principle: “Surrender your valuables, not yourself.”  (More on this below.)

There’s no totally safe way to walk alone, but here are ways to make it safer:

• BE IN THE MOMENT, not on your iPhone. You’ve heard it a million times before, but being engrossed in your iPhone both distracts you – making you less aware of your surroundings – and advertises that you’re carrying an electronic device that can be easily fenced and turned into cash.

• Most people avoid eye contact and tend look down and about 5-10 feet ahead when they’re walking. This makes them less aware of their surroundings.  Instead, LOOK AROUND REGULARLY AND LET PEOPLE KNOW YOU SEE THEM.  This does NOT mean looking super-aggressive – just make it clear that you’re paying attention.

• WALK WITH PURPOSE.  This is another thing we’ve all heard before, but many people kind of drift down the street, especially if they’re engrossed in their phones, and they look like easier targets.

• If you know you’ll be walking alone, especially at night, GIVE SOME THOUGHT IN ADVANCE TO YOUR ROUTING.  It’s better to take the longer, better-lit/more-populated route than to take the shortcut down an alley.  Don’t let stress over being late (for example) override your sixth sense.  Think about or look up places like businesses that will be open, fire stations, police stations, hospitals, etc. on your route.

• Similarly, before we had cell phones, we used to TELL SOMEONE OUR PLANS AND CHECK IN ONCE WE HAD ARRIVED.  This is still a good practice if you are planning to walk alone, especially in certain circumstances.  For instance, if you’re going to work late on a Saturday at your office downtown, then walk to meet people for dinner in SoMa, let someone know and check in with them once you’ve arrived and met up with the group.

• IF SOMEONE IS FOLLOWING YOU, THEY WILL OFTEN DO IT FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET AND A BIT BEHIND YOU.  Again, knowing this requires looking around periodically, and be sure to look across the street and back as well as directly behind you.  If the person/people cross to your side of the street, you should cross to the other side or walk in the middle of the road.  [Be especially aware of this when getting off of MUNI or coming out of BART – the MO of muggers lately seems to be to note who has a phone and is walking alone, and then to follow them away from the transit hub for a ways before robbing them.]

• KEEP A PHYSICAL BUBBLE AROUND YOU – no one should be able to get within an arm’s and a leg’s length before you try to stop them.  He thinks men in particular tend to let someone get too close – because they don’t want to offend them – before they make a move to stop them. Use your voice or your body to stop them.

• IF YOU SEE A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOU NERVOUS, CROSS THE STREET AND CROSS BACK AFTER YOU PASS THEM.  This has come up a lot in the Excelsior lately with people loitering outside of NetStop.

• CONCEAL YOUR VALUABLES.  Sounds obvious, but it’s better to “dress down” than to display lots of jewelry, electronics, a phone outlined in your back pocket, etc.

• TAKE ONLY THE VALUABLES THAT YOU NEED.  You probably don’t need to take all of your cash, your checkbook, all of your cards (credit cards, rewards cards, membership cards, IDs, etc), and all of your keys (home, office, bike, car, etc) every time you go out.  Having a more streamlined set of items with you means that if you’re mugged, you’ll lose less stuff, and you’ll also have to spend less time engaged in the tedious process of cancelling cards and getting new ones.

• SEPARATE YOUR VALUABLES.   Don’t keep everything in one fat wallet or in one pocket when you go out.  You may still get everything stolen – the muggers in last year’s Bernal robbery sprees patted down all of the victims’ pockets – but this at least improves your chances.

• There’s no tactic that will succeed in all muggings, but, if you feel personally threatened, one idea is to THROW YOUR VALUABLES IN ONE DIRECTION AND RUN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION.  The mugger is likely to grab your stuff rather than pursue you.

• NEVER GO WITH SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO TAKE YOU TO ANOTHER LOCATION. Do whatever you have to do to get away – run, fight, scream, etc.   You can also PASSIVELY RESIST – sit down, lie down in the street, pretend to faint, start vomiting (no guidance on how exactly to do this), etc.

• HAVE YOUR KEYS IN HAND when you’re getting home or going to your car so that you don’t have to spend time looking for them.

SFSAFE will do FREE residential security assessments of your house and make specific recommendations based on your house’s particular needs – call 673-SAFE to set one up.

Safety in this context means both a) securing your house against burglars and b) making it easy for emergency responders to enter (or for you to get out) in an emergency.  So be careful NOT to “oversecure” your house in such a way that makes it dangerous in a fire, etc. Specifically:

• If you have bars over your windows, at least one set must have an emergency release in every room that could be used for sleeping (not just bedrooms but places where people might fall asleep on the couch, etc)

• Don’t use double-cylinder deadbolts – the kind that need a key to open from both the inside and the outside.  Instead, use single-cylinder so that you can get out quickly a fire or other emergency.

General Principles to Improve Home Security:

• Your ADDRESS NUMBERS should be visible from all directions to emergency responders from the street – numerals should be in a high-contrast color (vs. your house’s paint color) and 3-4” high.

• Burglars are “creatures of opportunity” and look for the easiest target. Most burglaries occur in the daytime.

• TIME, LIGHT, and NOISE are a burglar’s enemies.

• A teen or small adult can get through any opening that is 96” square – the only thing that doesn’t bend is your head.

• If someone tries to enter your house when you’re there, do NOT pretend that you’re not home.  Say something like, “Hold on, Vince, I’ve got to see who’s at the door” (implying someone else is home) or “Is that the police?”  Burglars typically knock to see if anyone is home.  If they are, they ask for some person who isn’t there, pretend they got the wrong address, and leave.

• 2-FOOT/8-FOOT rule – bushes/shrubs should be no higher than 2-3’ tall; the crowns of trees should be no lower than 7-8’ tall.  This improves visibility.

• Avoid having trees or bushes right in front of doors or windows.

• Floodlights pointing OUT in your backyard don’t do much except blind your neighbors; consider putting floodlights at perimeter, directed inward.  Can be difficult if your wiring does not allow for it.  SFSAFE does free individual security assessments for single family homes and can discuss your specific yard.

• Street lights are meant for cars and are not intended to be ‘pedestrian-scale’ lighting.  This is why so many streets in Bernal and elsewhere in SF seem so dimly lit.

• In an ideal world, lighting should let you see a face 20 yards away.  You do not find this most places in SF (exception is on Market St. where there are also lights on the sidewalk at a lower height).


• There are many TIMERS for lights available – some screw onto the bulb directly.  When you’re away, you can set your lights to go on/off at different times, as though you’re still there. [One example – reviews seem to indicate it’s not the most amazing product, however:; & here’s one that automatically goes on from dusk til dawn]

• If you want to have a sophisticated, smart-phone-controlled timing system and spend a ton of money, one of my colleagues loves this.

• As mentioned above, it is best to use single-cylinder deadbolts [example for illustration only – I have no idea if this is a good product.]

• Don’t buy the cheapest deadbolt, but don’t spend a fortune, either – a deadbolt in the $30-high $40s range should be sufficient.

• Deadbolts work because of the strike plate [example of strike plate – no idea if this is a good product]. SFSAFE recommends a reinforced strike plate with four screws of at least 3” long (4” also good).  The screws go into the doorframe and then reach the 2×4 king studs.

• Spring latches do nothing more than keep the door from blowing open in the wind.

• Any external door (including doors that go from inside your garage into your house) should be solid-core.  Hollow-core doors can be reinforced, if needed, with polycarbonate, or with quarter-inch sheets of plywood on both sides OR half-inch on one side.  Be sure to weather-treat any plywood exposed to the elements. If you use polycarbonate, it should be only on the interior side because it will get scratched up if outside.

• Sliding doors – if sliding member is on the outside, you can’t use a dowel in the track to secure it.  Burglars can lift it out of its track.  The best thing to do is to insert screws in the top metal plate that prevent this from happening.

• Doors with exterior hinges – a burglar can undo the hinge and remove the door if you don’t have a latch guard or non-removable pins in the hinges.  On the plus side, you can’t kick in an outward-opening door.

• Contrary to what you might assume, it’s best to close your curtains when you’re not at home.  Don’t make it easy for people to take a look and figure out what stuff you have and whether anyone is home.

• As mentioned above, avoid having trees and bushes directly in front of windows.

• Don’t leave windows open when you’re not there – easy for someone to force their way in.

• Sash windows can be secured by pinning both sides at an angle on the interior, preventing a burglar from lifting it out.

• Replace louver/louvre windows – there is no way to secure them sufficiently. The individual panels can be removed.

• Secure transom windows with pins catercorner from each other so someone outside cannot force it open.

• Skylights – consider bars, grills, grates, or polycarbonate to secure these.

• Garage – key outlets to open the door are bad; you can spray saline into them, and the garage door will open.

• Mail slots – if you have one in your door, add a hood over it on the inside so that someone cannot use it to case your house by peering all the way in.

• When you’re traveling, make sure you get someone who lives NEARBY to check on your house.  If the person you ask lives too far away, you can pretty much guarantee they’ll only check the day you leave and the day before you return.

Whew. Got all that? Perhaps you’d like to read it again to ensure it all sinks in? Good idea.

Bernalwood sends our deepest thanks for Neighbor Sarah both for co-organizing the meeting and sharing her amazing notes.

10 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know About Personal Safety and Crime Prevention in Bernal Heights

  1. Speaking of crime…anyone know why the police ( lights-on on police car) had a guy face down on the ground, at 100 Winfield and Esmerelda yesterday?

  2. I know that obesity is a continuing problem in the US, if not specifically in Bernalwood, but I’d estimate that all Bernalwood teens and small adults – and more than 99% of regular adults – can get through an opening 96″ in diameter.

  3. Super helpful, thank you for the tips and/or remainders. I particularly like the idea of vomiting on someone to prevent mugging

  4. THANK YOU neighbor Sarah for taking the time to help all of us!!
    One added tip, do NOT leave your garage door opener or ANYTHING else in your car.

  5. As a woman who takes public transit and walks the streets of Bernal at night to get home, one thing I do is to walk in the middle of the street. I’ve discovered that the sidewalks in Bernal are ridiculously low light, so I just walk in the actual street and move out of the way if a car comes. Easier to be seen, to see a block or two ahead and get a leg up on a run if necessary.

  6. Pingback: Crime Alert: Spike in Muggings and Burglaries Prompts Personal Safety Reminder | Bernalwood

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