During Monday night’s meeting held to address a disturbing spike in violent crime in Bernal Heights, San Francisco police officers told a room of about 50 concerned Bernal neighbors that many of the recent incidents are related to increased gang activity.
Police say they believe much of this violence — including the Oct. 8 shooting at Precita Park and incidents of gunfire near the Bernal Dwellings public housing project at Folsom and 26th Street — is a ripple-effect from gang-related homicides on Shotwell near 24th Street. Police also said some of the violence is concentrated around Bernal Dwellings, where gang-members tend to have a more adversarial relationship with other Mission gangs
Captain Joseph McFadden from the SFPD’s Ingleside Station emphasized that the victims involved in most of the recent incidents were specifically targeted, and that the violence was not random. “”You probably won’t get into any trouble yourself unless you’re in a gang,” Mc Fadden said. “But that’s not to say you can’t get shot.”
However, the recent incident on Coleridge, during which a Bernal parent was beaten after asking several youths to quiet down, is not believed to have been gang-related.
Officers from the SFPD’s Gang Task Force said gang-related activity tends to have a cyclical ebb and a flow. Sometimes the root causes of violence turn out to be silly, but the pattern has peaks and valleys, and right now we seem to be in a peak. Viewed within the context of past patterns, they said, the activity taking place right now doesn’t seem particularly unusual, although it is on the high side.
At several points during the conversation, police pointed out that SFPD staffing levels are currently quite low. Many residents were astonished to hear that the Gang Task Force has only 12 officers now, down from about 45 in the mid- to late-2000s.
Police said they are doing the best we can with the resources available. They repeatedly stressed that the only way to move forward is with community participation, which may include providing statements and testimony when crimes go to trial.
Police also emphasized that video cameras have dramatically transformed how crime is investigated and prosecuted. Sidewalk-facing cameras on private homes are an invaluable resource, and officers encouraged residents to be proactive about reaching out to investigating officers to provide footage after incidents occur. Being proactive saves a lot of time, they said, because officers don’t have to go knocking on every door to find videos.
Several neighbors — including the wife of man beaten in the Coleridge incident — complained about having experienced a slow or indifferent response from SFPD beat officers when trying to report crimes in-progress.
Captain McFadden said that if police are slow to respond, Bernal neighbors can escalate incidents by calling Ingleside Station directly at (415) 404-4000 and asking to speak to the PC — the Platoon Commander. There’s always one on duty, and the PC oversees all activity in the precinct during each shift. Tell the PC how long you’ve been waiting, and be very specific about the problem.
Neighbor Sarah from BernalSAFE also attended Monday’s meeting; here are her notes, for addition detail:
Notes from SFPD Community Meeting
October 17, 2016
- Captain McFadden – Ingleside Station
- Lt. Caturat – Mission Station
- Sgts. Brown and Lao – Gang Task Force
Capt. McFadden (Ingleside Station):
- Recent incidents at Bernal Dwellings, Precita Park, and numerous locations in the Mission are believed to be gang-related (possibly MS-13) and not random. Gang Task Force is investigating each.
- Call in suspicious CONDUCT (not appearance) when you see it; don’t just post on Nextdoor. Can call 911 (crime in progress) or non-emergency dispatch (553-0123) for suspicious activity – e.g., drugs, casing cars, etc.
- If an event occurs, be proactive about sending in video or giving an eyewitness account – be specific. Captain McFadden will take your video personally – firstname.lastname@example.org
- The recent events seem to be gang activity carrying over from the Mission – retaliation, etc. Coleridge Mini-Park assault was not gang-related. Alemany homicide also not gang-related.
- Q from audience: wife of man assaulted at Coleridge Mini-Park said many neighbors had called 911; slow response and victim/witnesses discouraged from filing report. Captain McFadden said to call Platoon Commander for slow response – 404-4000.
- Q from audience: do we have enough cops? Currently 104 at Ingleside, down from full staffing levels.
Lt. Cataract (Mission Station):
- Incidents are related; victims were targeted.
- Believe activity started a few months ago; investigations are active.
Gang Task Force:
Sgts. Brown and Lao focus on Mission-based gangs.
- Nortenos and Surenos – way more Nortenos than Surenos (50-60 Nortenos for every Sureno).
- Recent activity is Nortenos feuding with other Nortenos; MS-13 possibly involved.
Many MS-13 jailed in mid-2000s. Activity picking up again in LA and SF.
- GTF has 12 people total, down from peak of 45.
- Precita Park victim had Norteno ties. When gang members are victims, they often don’t cooperate.
- 2 recent shootings in Bernal Dwellings under investigation.
- Gang activity tends to have peaks and valleys. Right now seeing a peak.
- Recruiting age for gangs is middle school.
- GTF works with federal task forces.
- For a city of its size, SF’s gang problem is bigger than you’d expect.
- Community involvement helps cases go all the way to prosecution (witness accounts, video). Mentioned a law that allows GTF to testify for you in preliminary hearings if you’ve given video, so you don’t have to appear until jury phase.
- Cameras very helpful. Proactively call station if you have video – saves time in investigation.
- Gangs less obvious these days in terms of dress/gang colors/etc. Now more concerned about being fashionable than representing their allegiances.
Q: Has there been an uptick in robberies overall?
Not relative to normal levels.
Husband of woman robbed on block with a series of similar robberies – they gave video, witness accounts, etc. & didn’t see much action from police.
Q: Do Mission & Ingleside share reports?
Yes, every morning.
Q: If you have a bad experience with an officer
Get the officer’s name and badge number and report to captain. Many of the officers on the streets now are new to the force, so they still have a lot to learn
Q: What does SFPD do when there’s gang activity?
Additional patrols, more undercover officers.
Q: How does the Gang Task Force monitor gangs?
Now involves social media (Snapchat and Instagram) in contrast to past.
Q from store owner on Mission: Is there gang graffiti to look out for?
If you see likely gang-related graffiti, take a photo and send in to 311 or email@example.com (he’s graffiti officer). Gang graffiti typically Roman numerals or numbers, won’t be artistic. E.g., XIV, 14, 22V (I think).
Community Groups Focused on At-Risk Youth:
Finally, and poignantly, this is what Neighbor Nina said she learned from the meeting, as shared in a Bernalwood comment:
These were my takeaways:
1. The police dept, including gang task force, is sorely understaffed and the staff they do have are too green to know wtf they are doing
2. It is no longer the job of police to serve and protect. Rather, it is to capture and prosecute. If they don’t think they have enough info to prosecute, they will not take time to capture. Relates directly to understaffing and inability to be proactive, operating in only a reactive state.
3. Dispatch has to prioritize calls, they get 50 or more noise complaints a night, that is why they are sometimes slow to respond. The police prioritize gun shots, robberies, etc over noise complaints. If you think it is going to escalate to violence, ask to talk to the PC (platoon commander) to have the call prioritized. (This relates back to being understaffed)
4. The police cannot keep us safe. They recommend dodging crossfire and reassure us that we are not the targets unless we are in a gang.
5. The last 5 MINUTES of the meeting, while people were leaving, was devoted to neighborhood groups who are actually doing the work that will protect us and keep us safe. The whole hour should have been dedicated to hearing them and learning how to get involved in their groups. The COMMUNITY is the way to PREVENT the violence. The police can’t do anything. We have to.
PHOTO: Capt. McFadden at the Oct. 17, 2016 Community Meeting, by Telstar Logistics