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:
STOPPING STREET CRIME IN BERNAL HEIGHTS IS AN ATTAINABLE GOAL
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:
- SFPD, with help from neighbors if possible, identify criminals and arrest them.
- DA prosecutes them aggressively and effectively
- Superior Court judges/juries find them guilty, and judges sentence them so they are off the street.
Here’s what ACTUALLY happens:
- SFPD arrests criminals some of the time.
- The DA either doesn’t prosecute them, or doesn’t achieve a conviction with sentencing that keeps them off of the streets.
- Judge/jury do not convict them; judge fails to give sentence that keeps them off the street.
- 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:
- 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.
- Track and pressure the SFPD to find and arrest the criminals
- Track and pressure the DA–Make sure that the DA prosecutes them aggressively and effectively.
- Track and pressure the Judges–Make sure that they sentence them and get them off the street.
- 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.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: PROSECUTE
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.
TRACK THE CASES IN THE SYSTEM
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.
JUDGES: TRY AND 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