Residents Demand Accountability at Bernal Heights Public Safety Meeting

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Less than 24 hours after a neighbor was brutally robbed at knifepoint on the Esmeralda stairway, a crowd of Bernal residents packed the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center to listen as a panel of civic leaders discussed how to address crime and lawlessness in Bernal Heights.

Neighbor Ryan from the Northeast Bernal Neighbors Alliance attended the meeting and took great notes, which he has generously shared with us here. There’s lots of useful information here —  as well as some truly depressing statistics about auto break-ins — so read on for the full details:

Community Crime and Public Safety Meeting
January 28, 2016, 6 pm
@ Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center

# City government Attendees:
* Supervisor Campos + Hillary Ronen
* Capt. Joseph McFadden, SFPD Ingleside
* Sarah Burton / Executive Director SF Safe
* Ernest Mendieta; SF Adult Probation Department
* Archie Wong, Bernal’s prosecutor from the DA’s office
* Reps from DPW, PUC

# Supervisor Campos (District 9 Supervisor)

* Supervisor Campos: had a prior commitment, could only stay at the meeting until 7:15
* “We’ve heard a lot of complaints about car break-ins. To be honest I am as frustrated as you are when I look at what’s going on.”
* Quoted the car note from the lovely neighbor who posted a sign in her car: “My car has been broken into 7 times… there’s nothing inside anymore, and I’m too old for this shit.”
* “What we’ve seen in car thefts in SF has reached, in my view, ridiculous levels. … It is a city-wide problem.”
* Supervisor Campos discussed discussions in government audits; other districts have had a task force-based approach to crime, but not in D9. Why not “is a question I have.”
* “I will be making sure the city takes not just a neighborhood approach, but a city-wide approach, that goes beyond what I believe could be called a ‘timid response’.”
* Proposing a new resolution Tuesday with asks for Chief Suhr: “I think the response from the city has focused too much on the citizens becoming the problem-solvers.” He continues, we all have a responsibility to minimize the risk of becoming a victim, city focuses more on what residents can do, not enough about what the city can do.
* He will ask Chief Suhr to develop an app to report thefts and crime. A big problem SF faces: “People stop reporting crime.” Reporting is critical. [Totally agree!]
* “I want to get to the bottom of how the police department and law enforcement is being used around us… there’s a lot of finger-pointing. What is happening? What kind of enforcement is the police department actually doing?” He continues, PD points finger at DA, and so on.
* “To the police department: I hope it happens not only in Ingleside, but throughout the city. I think we need better technology, and I think we need to improve our tactics,” such as bait cars (which McF has discussed before).
* “We need more information from all the law enforcement agencies. We are working in a vacuum. I know car thefts are up because I hear from my constituents, but what are the numbers of arrests?” He continues that the public has a right to that information. [Actually, lots of that information is already online here.]
* In reference to the annual budgeting process, which will begin happening shortly: “If there is any resource needed by law enforcement, as the supervisor of this district, I am committed to getting that resource. … If that means we need more officers or better technology in Ingleside, I will do that.”

# Capt. McFadden (SFPD Ingleside)
The captain’s section got cut into a bit (partly thanks to questions from yours truly) so the conversation jumped around a bit.

* To the Supervisor: “We already have an app.” It’s going out now and in the coming weeks, and it can alert officers of crimes to their city-issues smartphones in real-time. [I checked, and I don’t believe it’s out yet — no mention on the SFPD site, and nothing in the App Store (iOS)]
* “I’m not asking constituents in the community be cops, but I want you to be good reporters. … We need witnesses.”
* The discussion thus far had been almost entirely about car theft, and I asked to stop that thread momentarily, and for the Supervisor to speak to violent crime. Supervisor Campos: “In terms of crime, the priority is always violent crime. … The key is increasing our police presence. … There is something to be said about a police officer being seen in a neighborhood. … My ask would be we get more foot beats in that area. There is nothing like consistent police presence to demonstrate this isn’t acceptable.”
* Community member asks: “You’ve been Supervisor for a lot of years, it seems like the relationship with the police” is not great. tl;dr what is Supervisor Campos doing to foster this?
* Supervisor Campos: “Under the charter of SF… I don’t have the authority to tell the Captain to do x, y, and z. I have the ability to be a facilitator between the public and the agency. … I don’t know any Supervisor that works more day to day with the police department than I do.”
* “Any time there has been an uptick (in violent crime), I ask the Captain: is that enough?” [I may have transcribed this incorrectly — I think he was saying he checks in with the police captains in his district.]
* Another resident asks about cameras. “Public streets are public streets. … We need cameras on the streets.” Met with lots of vocal support and clapping.
* Nato Green asks the panel what their plans are, and “I’m sure you’re all failing completely.” Zing!
* Okay, back to the Captain: arrests are “way up” in car break-ins (aka “852s”)
* Capt. McFadden is a huge proponent of cameras, but “We also make cases on the simplest little facts.” (i.e. tiny details in clothing, bodily features, vehicles, etc.)
* The Captain also discusses some incidents of recent violent crime, followed by the same presentation as last week (showing a burglary in process) — refer to last week’s post on Bernalwood, the talking points were largely the same.
* Supervisor Campos asks Captain about the SFPD app: when will it be live? “I believe it’s already out there, I’ll have to check with the Chief.” [Again, I don’t think it’s out there yet.]
* Supervisor Campos: At the last meeting “I heard Prop 47 is the reason for all these crimes.” (Cue Archie Wong.)

# Archie Wong, prosecutor for the DA’s office
 Archie has worked over a decade here and Riverside — career prosecutor!

* Works on cases primarily in Bernal and Tenderloin — Tenderoin is the worst area of the city for all crime, per CompStat data shown. So his time is likely not spread proportionately. (More on that shortly.)
* DA has a camera registry: If you have a camera, if your neighbors have a camera please ask them, register your camera. Here’s the link!
* “Video video video, give me as much video as you can. These cases are really tough for us to prosecute.”
* In 2014 there were over 22,000 reported auto break-ins in SF. [THAT NUMBER IS REAL.] “We have 437 brought to DA for prosecution.” Out of those, Archie’s office took action on 63% of those cases. “We’re looking to prosecute these cases.” But it’s still less than 2% of cases.
* 2015: 26,000 reported auto break-ins, and 487 cases brought in to be charged. DA charged 80% of those cases 390. But still less than 2% of total cases.
* For those not keeping track at home, if you wanted to steal from vehicles in SF, you have a 99%+ chance of doing so without any repercussions (especially including all the unreported auto theft crime).
* Archie discusses common inability to get a conviction; public defenders only need to use Twinkie defenses: “That’s a very viable defense, especially here in SF. … This is a darn tough place to be a prosecutor and a police officer. The bench is very liberal. And I say that because the jurors are also very liberal.”
* “We need video, we need witnesses.”
* When taking a case to trial, “The first thing we do: ask civilian witnesses.” But many people don’t want to step forward for fear of retaliation. Archie urges people to do so anyway.
* “I can honestly tell you that in 17 years, over thousands of cases, I have never seen a civilian witness ever get threatened.” He includes himself in that too, he’s never been threatened.
* Addressing prop 47: “It didn’t cause this uptick in auto burglaries.” They’re actually able to be charged as either felony or misdemeanor before 47, and didn’t change. “They just look for easy marks. … There’s no $950 limit [referring to the felony theft threshold, see more detail ].”

# Ailed Quijano Paningbatan-Swan, BHNC Director of Community Engagement

* Proposed monthly meetings! (Sounded like the fourth Thursday of each month — didn’t hear the date)
* Nicki Hatfield: runs youth summits! Next one is in April, this one with the goal of creating a dialogue between SFPD officers and local youth, as well as empower them and give them tools, such as rights awareness.

# Q&A Period
* Neighbor: She has lived here for 55 years, talking about driving safety. “You want to know where the police are? The police are all in Martha’s. Go to Martha’s.” Zing again!
* Neighbor (who was assaulted just last night, and wore bandages and wounds to prove it… UGH. Really feel for her.): “I had a knife to my neck last night on the Esmerelda steps. … There’s been volleying to the conversation.” She asked for folks from the city to come together. “I’m an attorney and I’ve passed the bar in two states. I understand your position … This conversation needs to revolve less around trying to find evidence or witnesses after the fact, but to deter it. … Something like cameras puts criminals on notice that we’re watching them. This conversation should be more about things like that.”
* Capt. McFadden on a comment about not hearing back from police: “If you don’t hear back from one of my officers, call me. I guarantee you will get a call back.”
* Neighbor: “Will you support concealed-carry weapons?” McF: “I don’t support more guns.” He continued that he wants to do everything he can to reduce guns in the community, and he doesn’t have, like, or keep a gun except when he’s in SFPD uniform.
* Neighbor: Expressed more support for cameras. [This is definitely a trend I am noticing amongst the community!]
* Neighbor: Explanation of the district court electoral process, and requests for district judges here next month to speak to the community group. [No one seemed confident that could happen, but thanks for the strong suggestion, Buck!]
* Neighbor: Request for redistricting of Bernal’s local police station be in the Mission due to proximity. Some discussion of that idea, which seems far-fetched (other corners of Bernal will be without good coverage), followed by Capt. McFadden: “One of the positives… you’re on the border of three stations. We’re talking about getting on the same radio channel.” This was recently discussed — 911 dispatch calls can go out to multiple stations, but right now Mission and Ingleside use different radio channels to reduce chatter, but possibly for not much longer!
* Question from me to Archie: “Are you shared with the Tenderloin?” Yes. “So Bernal shares its DA prosecutor with one of the top three most blighted urban areas in the entire nation? (and, obviously, the most crime-ridden area in our city)?“ (Yes.) “How can we get you (Archie) focused solely Bernal?” Archie: things are changing, but it’s up to the supervisors. For example: “DA units in New York units have 20 prosecutors, we have 5 per unit.” The DA is asking Supervisors for more budget to hire more prosecutors.
* Neighbor: How can we get CalTrans involved in the CalTrans-run areas (like the Bayview footbridge)? In trying to fix little things, like the lighting in that footbridge, our neighbor got tons of handoffs, and eventually called every day for 60 days straight to get results. Hillary: “CalTrains is notoriously hard to get ahold of.” Followed by some discussion on how to better reach them.
* Neighbor: How can we get CalTrans involved in the homeless encampments in NE Bernal? Hillary: Hotspot walks, helping get them into Navigation Centers, “What we think we need to do with that area is try to open a new much bigger Navigation Center down the road on Cesar Chavez (in district 10). We want to activate that area [use it for city storage, etc.] so people can’t move back in.”
* Neighbor: re. Holladay, would love to put a park on Caltrans right of way and turn it into a park. It’s already terraced.
* Neighbor: one of the local leaders who led the improvement Holly Court, missed name? Bobby?) Discussed community policing strategies, community involvement, and suggesting really working hard to cooperate and get to know local PD.
* Neighbor: He’s been coming to community safety meetings “for many years” and never seen Supervisor Campos or anyone from his office, including Hillary. He appreciated their attention, but strongly implied that the citizens of D9 + Bernal were not interested in election year stunts.
* Ernie (SF Adult Probation Department): Strongly in favor of community dialogue. “Some of these ideas, these are nothing new. You’re reinventing the wheel.” [This reads defeatist in text, but I didn’t take his comments that way; my interpretation of Ernie’s tone was more like: a lot of people around SF have these problems, and there are only so many solutions, so keep organizing and communicating.] Probation team has been discussing stay-away orders, using GPS on people on probation, as well as sanctions (and rewards!) for behavior.

At this point the meeting was well over 2 hours in, and I was getting a bit loopy and ran out of steam; I may have missed a couple of questions / comments but this should have covered the vast majority.

Thanks for reading, and please keep on top of our government folks.

Hope to see you all at the next meeting, and NE Bernal folk please do sign up for the Northeast Bernal Neighbors Alliance!

Very special thanks to Neighbor Ryan for sharing his thorough notes.

PHOTO: Bernal neighbors at the Community Crime and Safety Meeting, Jan. 28, 2016. Photo by Neighbor Sarah

18 thoughts on “Residents Demand Accountability at Bernal Heights Public Safety Meeting

  1. In all the break in and crime reports and car break ins and muggings I’ve yet to see anyone actually conceive that one of the catalysts of crime in this area is pretty clear: Besutiful, liberal, socialist, Bernal Heights is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city (aside from the mega million fortresses of Pac Heights or Nob Hill). It’s easy access from the freeway and the bayview. Homelessness and poverty is on the rise. In the 23 years I’ve been in the Bay Area I’ve never seen so many people on the streets, living in tents or less. Does that mean they’re the criminals? No. But all these people who shell out 2 million for a home and then act shocked that they’re car is busted into…welcome to urban living. So eventually Bernal Heigjts will become the “liberal” bastion of wealthy paranoia and cameras on every corner and porch and maybe Trump has the right idea and you’ll just build a wall around your hill because you’ve already walled yourself in by making this place so damned hard to live in except for yourself and anyone else in your income bracket. To quote a cliche…what goes up…

    • I’m sure there’s a certain satisfaction in turning this into a class war issue and all, but the inconvenient reality is that a crime wave isn’t going to hit the wealthiest hardest. It’s worse for the less wealthy residents of the neighborhood who don’t have a garage for their car, and who don’t have vehicles and homes with stronger security measures. So perhaps you might turn down the smug a touch.

    • Why haven’t you come across the notion or understanding that Bernal has gotten more expensive, and cars have gotten nicer, coupled with freeway access + prop 47? Why haven’t you seen that? because it has been talked about practically ad nauseam. I submit that you haven’t really spent much time looking into what’s going on, and simply like to be holier than thou on the internet.

  2. I think the folks in the TL might take issue with the characterization as “one of the top three most blighted areas in the US.” The data on blight is hard to come by, but Census data indicates the most blighted areas in the US are in Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, and New Orleans. Blight, loosely defined as an area with lots vacant buildings, doesn’t seem like an apt way to describe the TL. It has crime and low-income families, but it’s really quite a bustling place.

    http://www.datacenterresearch.org/reports_analysis/benchmarks-for-blight/

      • i was at the meeting and i thought it was completely ridiculous and out of line to call the TL one of the top 3 most blighted areas in the country. shame on you for such an unnecessary exaggeration.

  3. Does anyone know the rule/law around street facing cameras from residences? Do signs need to be posted indicating the presence of a camera?

    I’m thinking of just putting up a dropcam, but these also record audio. Any issues with audio being recorded?

    • The calendar is a bit hard to read on small devices – can you clarify your point? (Not trying to be incendiary/smug – seeking to understand).

  4. From the DA’s office at Thursday’s meeting * In 2014 there were over 22,000 reported auto break-ins in SF. [THAT NUMBER IS REAL.] “We have 437 brought to DA for prosecution.” Out of those, Archie’s office took action on 63% of those cases. “We’re looking to prosecute these cases.” But it’s still less than 2% of cases.

    * 2015: 26,000 reported auto break-ins, and 487 cases brought in to be charged. DA charged 80% of those cases 390. But still less than 2% of total cases.

    How many convictions and did the perps serve jail time? How many break-ins/cases/convictions in Bernal in 2014-2015?

    What is a twinkie defense? I know it was used by Dan White, but is it still credible today? Sounds like a stretch to me. DA should have provided an example.

    Finally, is there any relationship between car break-ins and violent crime? (Broken window theory.)

  5. Anyone know if privately-owned surveillance cameras need to be disclosed with signs? (Example: a Dropcam in window facing the street)

    Also, assuming we were to set up a dropcam, these things record audio. Any potential issue there?

  6. Thank you for the information packed post. I was unable to attend either meeting but really appreciate getting the report. When I first moved to Bernal 25 years ago my truck was broken into three times and my housemate’s car was stolen (early nineties). I often heard gunfire. Then we had a decade or so of what felt to me like less petty crime, which now seems to have ticked up a notch. And the random gunfire is back, which is what alarms me much more than car break ins. The homeowner cameras are a new technology that could make a significant difference in fighting and prosecuting crime, but what is their legality?

    • I’m not a lawyer, but I am a photographer and a privacy advocate, and generally there are no legal issues with homeowners’ surveillance cameras. In the US, the legal right to capture images of public spaces without receiving prior consent from subjects in the images is well established, and contains few exceptions. The exceptions have to do with reasonable expectations of privacy (ie. no photos in a public bathroom or changing rooms) and commercial use of images of people captured in public settings.

  7. Neighbor Ryan, Thank you for your note taking and probing questions. I was especially encouraged when you questioned the violent crime issue. Property can be replaced. Lives can be lost and ruined with violent attacks. Capt. McFadden mentioned police response time to central Bernal is from 2 minutes if a cruiser is nearby to 5 minutes if coming from the station. And this is after a call comes in. You simply do not have that much time in a violent encounter. All the police will do is fill out a report after the fact. We need to do whatever we are comfortable with to protect ourselves and our families with or without this so-called political support. You can organize all the walks and trim the trees and light the path but at the end of the day you are one on one with the criminal in a violent encounter and left to your own devices. Good luck!

  8. Pingback: Thursday: Community Safety Meeting at BHNC (and a Hot Spot Survey You Can Complete Now) | Bernalwood

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