What Will It Take to Reduce Street Crime in Bernal?


We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Buck Bagot is a Bernal Heights treasure. Since 1971, Buck has been involved as a activist, advocate, and community organizer in Bernal Heights. He helped co-found the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, and over the decades he’s participated in dozens of crime-reduction efforts here — including program that cut crime at public housing developments like Holly Courts.

Bernalwood asked Buck to share some wisdom on what we need to do if we want to put an end to costly car break-ins, scary home burglaries, and dangerous assaults in Bernal Heights. So over to you, Neighbor Buck:


While the recent crime wave in SF neighborhoods is certainly exacerbated by the increasing divide between the haves and have-nots, our criminal justice system is clearly not doing enough. Any assault is one too many. And I’ve lost count of the number of times street criminals have broken into cars on my block. I leave my car unlocked with nothing in it. A few weeks ago, someone entered it and stole my nail clippers.

Ending street crime may appear to be an impossible goal. But it’s not – at least not in Bernal Heights, where we have success stories of effective community policing. The two public housing developments in Bernal– Holly Courts and Alemany – were once plagued by ongoing open drug dealing, assaults, shootings and murders. I assisted the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center (BHNC) in organizing the residents of Holly and Alemany and their neighbors. We worked with the SF Police Department (SFPD) and District Attorney’s Office (DA), and held them accountable for stopping the street crime.

We’ve had great success: Holly Courts is now virtually crime free. Alemany is getting there, but there is clearly more to be done. Bernal has many formal and informal anti-crime block organizations that are part of its community policing operation. When we organize, we make a difference. BHNC – specifically Ailed Paningbatan-Swan, Director of Community Engagement – and I have worked for a long time with neighbors like Sarah Rogers, Edie Williams, Deb MacDonald and Bobbie Cochran to organize our community policing.

The Hillwide community policing meeting organized by BHNC and Supervisor David Campos on January 28, 2016 was a good start, with about 100 neighbors attending. Make sure to attend the next one on Thursday February 25 at 6:00 pm at 515 Cortland Ave. And kudos to neighbors in the northeast side of Bernal for their well-attended meeting earlier in January!

I was deeply moved to hear our neighbor courageously tell her personal story of being assaulted at knifepoint the day before the meeting. BHNC-organized “hot spot walks” are a good example of one thing we can do together to make our neighborhood safer. These walks scout out an area where assaults have happened or could happen, and change some of the physical conditions that encourage street crime: overgrown bushes get pruned, street lights get fixed/ installed, etc. The walks have included the active participation of SFPD, Supervisor Campos, and the SF Department of Public Works (DPW), and are organized by Ailed at BHNC.

The “HOW TO” list:

The Problem:  Property crimes (especially car break-ins) and personal crimes (assaults/robbery).

Here’s what SHOULD happen:

  1. SFPD, with help from neighbors if possible, identify criminals and arrest them.
  2. DA prosecutes them aggressively and effectively
  3. Superior Court judges/juries find them guilty, and judges sentence them so they are off the street.

Here’s what  ACTUALLY happens:

  1. SFPD arrests criminals some of the time.
  2. The DA either doesn’t prosecute them, or doesn’t achieve a conviction with sentencing that keeps them off of the streets.
  3. Judge/jury do not convict them; judge fails to give sentence that keeps them off the street.
  4. Criminals return to Bernal Heights and continue their street crime:

Here’s The Solution: 

Bernal neighbors must hold the SF criminal justice system accountable for ending crime on Bernal.   We must report, pressure, track, pressure, and follow up.  Here’s what we can do:

  1. Report: If you see someone “casing” cars, call 911 from landline or 415-553-8090 from cell phone. If you experience even a minor or attempted crime, call 415-553-0123 (non-emergency SFPD number) to report it. In either case, always get a Police report number.
  2. Track and pressure the SFPD to find and arrest the criminals
  3. Track and pressure the DA–Make sure that the DA prosecutes them aggressively and effectively.
  4. Track and pressure the Judges–Make sure that they sentence them and get them off the street.
  5. Hold them all accountable at regular meetings (such as BHNC monthly community policing meetings).

BHNC used this approach successfully in the past at Holly Courts public housing development, and with mixed results at Alemany.  We formed a work group with representatives from BHNC, resident organizations, neighbors, the Police, and the DA’s Office. The Police provided us with a list of persons arrested for drug dealing or violent crimes. We worked with SFPD, DA’s office, and the SF Housing Authority to get them out of the developments. We never had to meet with the Judges.


We need to make sure the SFPD arrests all persons committing crimes in Bernal. As SFPD Ingleside Station Captain Joseph McFadden said at recent community meetings, he believes that there are 3-4 people doing all of the car break-ins.  When I met with him recently, he agreed to give us the police reports for anyone arrested for car break-ins on Bernal (this is public information).  If the police aren’t arresting all of the people committing car break-ins, we keep pushing until they do.


We must ensure that the DA’s Office aggressively and effectively prosecutes anyone arrested for personal or property crimes in Bernal.  (For car creak-ins, there are two key DA representatives: the person who decides on prosecution of car break-ins and the Assistant DA who prosecutes. I believe that both were in attendance at the recent Hill-wide meeting.) We need to get the DA office’s commitment to make personal and property crimes in Bernal a priority.  If they don’t do this, we pressure DA George Gascón.


We should ensure that the SFPD and DA’s office keep us apprised of the progress of the prosecution of anyone arrested in Bernal for auto break in.

We need people to meet with the SFPD and DA on a regular basis to make sure that the Police arrest, the DA prosecutes, and the Judges sentence.


We should not allow deals that put guilty offenders right back out on the street.

The judges of SF Superior Court run for office every 6 years, which means we can assert direct political pressure on them to respond to the needs of the people of SF. The judges elect a Presiding Judge of the Superior Court to represent them; currently that is Presiding Judge John K. Stewart.  If the judges don’t get the criminals off the street, we should meet with the Presiding Judge, armed with a list of the individuals arrested and the disposition of their cases and with the SFPD and the DA included.  We may have to send the Presiding Judge a lot of emails/letters to get his attention.

PHOTO: Broken auto glass on Cortland Avenue, February 6, 2016, 11:22 am. By Telstar Logistics

26 thoughts on “What Will It Take to Reduce Street Crime in Bernal?

  1. I am surprised to see such short sighted sentiment on this blog. Do you truly believe that nonviolent property crimes should be punished with jail time and do you truly believe that time spent in jail or prison improves a person’s prospects for the future? The solution does not lie in more law enforcement and it never has. Think about what you are saying. Have you ever been in a jail or a prison or understand what goes on in these institutions? Not only does incarceration not solve crime, it creates a larger burden on people and stigmatizes them for life. Mass incarceration is one of our greatest crises and disproportionately impacts people of color and poor people.
    i realize that none of us wants to have our nail clippers stolen or our car windows broken in our comfy little urban hood but think hard before you turn to the police to solve social problems. How would you feel if one of these petty criminal was shot and killed by the police?
    Please do a little more research and think carefully before you commit yourself to a tough on crime stance.

    • So your solution to the problem is….?

      Furthermore, these are not “non-violent crimes.” Having nail clippers stolen from a car is non-violent, but criminals (potentially the same criminals engaged in the auto break-ins) are also engaging in potentially life threatening knife-point robberies and burglaries. Which makes your rejection of the obvious solution (assisting the police with doing their job) in favor of no alternative not just naive, but rather offensive.

    • I see your point Lori, but as a resident of Bernal who’s home was burglarized last year ($2500 of damage to doors & windows) and the again a few months back (garage lock busted and $700 commuter bike stolen), I don’t have much sympathy for those committing these crimes. I fully support SFPD in there efforts to apprehend these individuals — who, caught on camera and seen by witnesses, both happen to be men of color.

      With the recent stabbing and a gunpoint mugging last year, Im particularly concerned about the physical safety of law abiding residents. Rather than ask if supporters of law enforcement have “been in a jail”, I’d like to know if you’ve ever been stabbed?

    • It is not our job to decide who gets what punishment. If someone commits a crime, they should be held accountable for their actions. No one here has asked that police lean in to solve social problems. They have asked that the police stop the crimes by catching the perpetrators and that community members take part in keeping the community safe.

      We’re not talking about life in prison here and these crimes certainly aren’t going to go away if there is little to no consequences for committing them.

      I agree with you that our justice system needs to be more aligned towards rehabilitation and giving people the tools they need to build their lives and that mass incarceration for victimless crimes certainly is a problem. I’m not sure I agree that the solution is to be so lenient that there are no repercussions for damaging someones’ personal property or assaulting them at knifepoint.

    • lori – hello
      I think your comments are right on the mark. also, I think the tough on crime stuff, while it may make people feel good, will not get the results people want. san francisco and bernal is an island, and island of wealth in a sea of poverty. people come here to rob the rich. it is what it is. I have not followed the story of the guy with the knife, but the last gunmen on a crime spree were from south city and before that the gunman came from Richmond. the Richmond criminals were so desperately poor they had to gas up the car with a stolen credit card to make their escape.

      you know that it is true that bernal people are hateful and have no sense of community when they start in on the character assassination over such petty disagreements as in this discussion. calling each other pussies reminds me of the teabaggers and Donald trump. tell9ing people to leave because they disagree with you is lame. enjoy the hatred.

      buck – hello
      let me ask you, who do you work for these days? are you really still a resident of bernal? I was also wondering, when you lived on Winfield st you had two dogs, ed and oboe. what ever happened to them? they have to be dead and gone 25 years after you moved but tell me their story. ed always used to confront me barking and wagging his tail when I came home in the afternoon, his way of saying hello. i would bark back at him (hello in big dog speak) and then pet him, then oboe would come out and say hello. they would lean in on my legs and enjoy a good scrath behind the ears. it was like getting a big hug. i have fond memories of them. having two large dogs like that was real crime crime prevention. maybe you should tell the story about how and why you got them.

  2. Buck Bagot reported, “SFPD Ingleside Station Captain Joseph McFadden said at recent community meetings, he believes that there are 3-4 people doing all of the car break-ins.” If we can we have mug shots of these 3-4 people, then we can know them when we see them casing our cars.

  3. I think people tend to forget that we have a Constitution (and lower-level laws ensuring due process). It’s not just a matter of pressuring judges to convict people — they need to have actual *evidence* upon which to base a conviction. With street crime, especially property crimes, the real problem is usually a lack of evidence tying a defendant to the crime beyond a reasonable doubt — if a suspect can even be located, and any workable solution is going to take that into account.

  4. Got my car “smash and grabbed” last night. My neighbor saw the people casing cars. I agree with Bernalwood’s stance, and think we, the residents, can do more: Motion sensing lights, real (or even sham) security cameras, and vigilance above all else. My neighbor (who gets home from work late and often smokes on his patio until the wee hours) has seen several folks casing cars, but has never called 911. Let’s make it SFPD’s problem in real time, not at community meetings.

  5. I am originally from the NY area. This kind of crap would not be tolerated. We need to stop being pussies here in SF.

    • Watch your sexist language, Neighbor!
      That’s the kind of crap we queers and feminists in SF don’t tolerate. Maybe NY misses you, too.

  6. HOW DID IT USED TO BE? There was always someone home during the daytime, usually the wife/mother. People used to get to know their neighbors, attending their kids’ graduations, their weddings, and other special events, having dinner together, etc. What this meant was that people knew the comings and goings of their neighbors, and they knew what was out of place. It also meant that because the neighbors became friends they paid attention to each others’ kids. The kids knew this and didn’t burglarize or assault people.

    I know that what I’m talking about is ancient history and that you folks really DON’T want to get to know your neighbors or spend more time at home in the daytime. But this is what works.

    Where I live on Treasure Island, there are all kinds of kids and young adults — many of them living in Section 8 welfare housing, and yet we don’t have anything near the crime problem Bernal has. We see the kids running around outside throwing footballs around, riding their scooters, etc., and they know that we know who they are. The kids behave. The young adults behave. And if they’re good they get recommended for parttime jobs at the two stores on the island.

    So, what Bernal needs is to build a community. I know you folks think you have a community, but as a former 9 year resident there, all I saw were factions of people who hated the “other” people. I didn’t see people wanting to build a community, but I saw people complaining about people parked too close to their driveway or scratching the paint on their car. Attending community meeting I kept hearing people complain complain complain, and doing nothing to actually get to know and assist their neighbors.

    • Report burned out street lights to the responsible party, either the city or PG&E. As it is hard to determine if it is a city pole or a PG&E pole, report at both sites. The only way for a broken street light to be repaired is to report, there is no staff or system to make the owners aware there is an issue, kinda hard to believe.

      City http://www.sf311.org/index.aspx?page=129
      PG&E https://www.pge.com/en/myhome/servicerequests/streetlights/single/index.page?redirect=yes
      or call 311

    • David,

      While I agree that there is much more that can be done to connect Bernal neighbors in a positive way, I don’t think that your Treasure Island comparison is valid. TI is much more isolated than Bernal (um, “Island”) — or any other part of the city for that matter. An outsider committing a crime on TI needs to use a single 2.25 mile roadway to escape if an alarm is sounded. It’s also a much smaller community. Bernal’s Section 8 housing on Alemany is a world away from the Northern reaches of our community, and I’m not even making an assumption that Bernal’s crime is connected to this housing — more often it’s “outsiders”.

      Sadly, we don’t all live on an island. And yes we do complain about people blocking driveways (often times people who don’t live in our neighborhood), but we also discuss home burglaries, assaults and issues that impact the general health an wellbeing of our neighborhood.

      As for you’re assertion that the Bernal “folks” don’t want “to get to know your neighbors or spend more time at home in the daytime”, well, I’m not even going to comment, except to say, thanks for your helpful, practical solution to our everyday issues.

    • David,

      Thanks for your reflections, but it isn’t particularly helpful to reference how it use to be in the olden days, or how it is now on an island in the middle of the bay. As Roger said, we are not an island, and we don’t live in the 50’s. I know my neighbors, but doesn’t stop crime. Sure, crime in my neighborhood was lower when the local drunk was sitting out on his front stoop every day drinking his beer, but not every street gets to have a local drunk. I don’t think that making a huge assumption that people in Bernal don’t know their neighbors is accurate or helpful. I think we’re a very close community, probably more so than many other areas of the City. Maybe you can’t see that from your vantage point on Treasure Island.

  7. Any comments critical of Todd’s proto-fascist perspective seem to be deleted. I guess that’s not surprising….

    • proto-fascist perspective?

      The word fascist gets so misused and abused on the internet. Grow up. I mean, first beat it and never come back from this website if you dislike it so, sure. But then after that do grow up.

      • Howard – I grant that you know the meaning of “proto” used as a prefix. But if
        1) Todd’s supporting the work of the police and judicial system to identify and prosecute criminals (defined as persons violating democratically enacted laws) is “proto-fascist”; and
        2) Kenny informing you that you don’t have to read things on the internet if you don’t want to and don’t have a right to post on other people’s websites is “fascism”,
        then it’s pretty clear you don’t know what “fascist” means.

      • You’ll notice that both Kenny and I are tolerating your dissent quite well. We just think it’s stupid. Last time I checked http://www.bernalwood.com is not the State run media. But, like, whatever Howard. It’s proto-fascist. I’m a Nazi. Words have no meaning. You are welcome to enjoy your rhetoric, wherever it may take you. Please note, however, that people (including Todd on Todd’s website) might not enjoy having you around for the ride. That’s called “freedom of association.” Another fascist concept.


      • Read back, Howard! All my comments still adorn this page. I never said fascism “has no meaning.” In fact, quite the opposite. I have asserted that it’s an actual English word with a discernible meaning. My point is (and remains!) that you don’t happen to know what that meaning is.

      • What’s funny about this is it looks as though Abe is replying to some comments that were subsequently deleted.

        So maybe this Howard guy has a point at least in that regard?

      • Yeah it looks kind of funny. But deleting comments off a message board has absolutely nothing to do with fascism. And proto-fascism is by definition long in the past, Italian, late 19th century. He meant to say “neo fascist,” or perhaps “meta fascist.” And it still would have been utter horse shit but at least he would have used the English language correctly.

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