SFPD Traces Violent Crime Spike in Bernal Heights to Increased Gang Activity


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 – joseph.mcfadden@sfgov.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 martin.ferreira@sfgov.org (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

Monday: Community Meeting with SFPD to Discuss Violent Crimes in Bernal Heights


There’s been a lot of (quite understandable) distress about the recent spate of violent crimes in Bernal Heights, including the Oct. 8 shooting in Precita Park and other rather horrific incidents like this and this.

This is not acceptable.

An emergency urgent community meeting with the San Francisco Police Department has been organized for this coming Monday night, October 17, and Neighbor Sarah has the details:

The Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and other neighbors have organized a community meeting to discuss the recent Precita Park and Bernal Dwellings shootings with SFPD.

Captain McFadden from the Ingleside Police Station and a representative from the Mission Police Station will be in attendance.

When: Monday, 10/17, 7:30-8:30pm
Where: Leonard Flynn Elementary School (on Precita Park, 3125 Cesar Chavez St, @ Harrison)

Please enter Flynn from the Harrison side of the school. The meeting will start on time and end on time.

PHOTO: Police mark bullet casings found near Precita Park on Oct. 8, by Bernalwood

How Neighbor Lisa Got a Stop Sign and Crosswalk Installed Near Holly Park


Through persistence and some savvy nagging, Neighbor Lisa recently arranged to have a stop sign and proper crosswalk installed on the east side of Holly Park near Highland. Now, Neighbor Lisa tells Bernalwood how she did it:

Recently saw your post / community update about some new neighborhood street lighting, and all that went into making that happen. Crazy, but success. Yay! Inspired me to reach out to you all to tell you about our exciting new-ish crosswalk to Holly Park, pedestrian signage, and new stop sign on Highland.

It was installed during late spring to connect Highland Avenue and Holly Park Circle walkers headed to the east side of the park (main entrance with ramps, playground, dogs galore). Before this crosswalk, there was only one on the entire circumference of the park, connecting to the elementary school on the west. I was always worried about my toddler son and his preschool crossing that crazy circle everyday with cars whipping around the curves, so I made a 311 request.

This is an exciting community safety improvement that hundreds use every day, but more importantly, it’s a way to show other neighbors that this crosswalk (and the stop sign) came about simply because I completed an online 311 application and then made a few follow-up phone calls to SFMTA. I have also called 311 for more urgent requests, like a huge pothole on Appleton at Mission where I almost flew over my bike handlebars, and a massive trash dumping on the sidewalks behind the Safeway.

PHOTO: New crosswalk at Highland, courtesy of Neighbor Lisa

Supervisor Campos Announces Support for Permanent Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill


On Tuesday Supervisor David Campos announced his support for an effort to install a permanent, City-funded memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. However, Bernal Heights neighborhood groups say they have not been informed about the proposal.

Alex Nieto was a 28 year-old Bernal neighbor who died in an officer-involved shooting in March 2014. The San Francisco District Attorney’s investigation of the incident determined Nieto had a history of clinical psychosis and behavioral problems, alleging that he pointed a pistol-shaped taser at police officers who approached him after receiving reports of an armed man acting erratically on Bernal Hill. During a subsequent wrongful death suit initated by the Nieto family, a jury ruled that the SFPD officers involved in the incident had not used excessive force.  Friends of Alex Nieto maintain his death was a byproduct of gentrification.

Alex’s parents,  Cortland Avenue residents Elvira and Refugio Nieto, appeared before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to request that the City establish a memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. An event announcement posted on Facebook described the effort:

A resolution to establish a permanent memorial in honor of Alex Nieto, unlawfully killed by the San Francisco Police Department.

Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos will be sponsoring this noble resolution.

Press conference at the front steps of San Francisco City Hall at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 13, 2016. Board of Supervisors meeting to follow immediately. Bring your friends and family and arrive early for the lowrider caravan of justice and the danzante blessing.


In order to honor Alex Nieto, a permanent memorial will be established at Bernal Hill Park, the place where he was unlawfully killed by the SFPD.

Through no fault of his own, Alex Nieto, a 28 year old full-time student and security guard who had never been arrested in his life, was shot at fifty nine times and killed by SFPD officers. Even though there were many witnesses that claimed Alex had done nothing wrong and was just peacefully eating his burrito, the San Francisco District Attorney did not pursue criminal charges against officers. Then in a sham of a civil trial, the killers were released of liability by a mostly white jury that was comprised of no Latinos or African-Americans.

After Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Campos confirmed his intention to establish a City-sponsored memorial to Alex Nieto:


Bernalwood is unaware of any public meetings that have been or will be held in Bernal Heights to consider the idea of a permanent memorial on Bernal Hill. Bernalwood also reached out to leaders of several Bernal Heights neighborhood groups, and none were familiar with the proposal. One Bernal Heights community organizer said, “No, we weren’t consulted about this, but this is the kind of thing we normally expect to be notified about.”

According to the Justice For Alex’s group’s summary of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting:

About a dozen supporters supported the Nietos by asking the Supervisors to recognize that harm had been done to the Nieto Family and the Latino community; that altars carried cultural significance to the Latino community; that the request for a permanent and protected altar and memorial was a most basic act of restoration; that Alex’s death was tied to gentrification policies of the City that allow newcomers to arrive in droves to the Mission without understanding the cultural differences and their privileges in the communities of color they come to displace and inhabit.

Justice For Alex says Supervisor Campos committed to support an ordinance that would mandate the installation of a permanent memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. The group says the ordinance will be introduced by D11 Supervisor John Avalos at an upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting, within the next two weeks.

See all of Bernalwood’s previous coverage of Alex Nieto.

PHOTO: Top, ad hoc Alex Nieto memorial on Bernal Hill, September 14, 2016, by Telstar Logistics

Neighbors Rejoice as Safety Streetlight (Finally) Installed at Coleridge Mini-Park

It took a lot of emails, a ton of phone calls, a bunch of meetings, and a lot of nagging, but a group of very persistent Bernal Heights Neighbors  finally managed to get a streetlight installed next to the lovely Coleridge Mini-Park. Their hope has been that a streetlight would help deter the nighttime carousing and petty crime that’s been a persistent problem for the park’s neighbors — and so far that seems to be working out as planned.

Neighbor Valerie writes:

A quick update on the status of the Coleridge Mini Park.

We had tried for years to get improved lighting in the park to help deter the drug dealers/users, parties and occasional overnight guests that hung out there. We, and our neighbors, were literally calling the cops to come out and check on things at least several times per week.

However, last spring, our efforts finally paid off. With a lot of assistance from Josh Arce [D9 Supervisor candidate] and Carolyn Goossen [Supervisor David Campos’s legislative aide], the right people at the City were finally corralled and a new light was installed in June.

Since that time, I don’t think there have been any issues that have required police intervention — we’d actually be curious to know if it’s possible to run a report on the number of time the SFPD had to come out to check on things in the park over the same time period over the past two years. I’d be shocked if it hasn’t dropped dramatically.

As you can see, the park is now well-lit and the Parks Dept comes out at least once a week to maintain it (Seriously – a huge shoutout to Rec and Park – they really do a great job keeping it clean!)

The new light really has made a big difference our the quality of life here on Coleridge St.

Nice work, persistent neighbors!

PHOTO: Neighbor Valerie

Ingleside SFPD Officers Issued New Body Cameras


Yesterday, officers from the San Francisco Police Department’s Ingleside Station — the precinct that covers Bernal Heights — were issued wearable body-cameras for the first time.  The hope is that body cameras will help improve police accountability by providing additional information about what happens during interactions between SFPD officers and members of the public.

Vivian Ho from the San Francisco Chronicle was at Ingleside Station as the body cameras were distributed. She reports:

On Thursday, instructors from Taser International, the company that produces the Axon cameras, passed out the small, black squares that will be clipped on the chests of officers, sergeants and lieutenants. The officers eyed them warily.

Officer Kyle Wren, one of about 60 officers and sergeants who volunteered to receive the device early and assist in training, said initial hesitation is normal.

“My first week having it, you’re just aware you’re being recorded all the time,” he said. “I’ve already been used to being recorded on cell phones, but it’s on the whole time and you’re just a little bit self-conscious at first. I would say after a week on patrol, using it all the time, I got very used to it.”

Officers must double-tap the device to activate it, but like a DVR it’s always recording, so it can catch the 30 seconds before the officer turns it on, only without audio.

The camera policy, passed by the Police Commission in June, set rules for when officers must activate their devices — essentially for all public interactions except for strip searches and those involving sexual assault and child-abuse victims and confidential informants.

“The wave of the future is already here,” said Ingleside Station Capt. Joseph McFadden. “Most of the video we get is from private citizens’ cameras, but now you have the officers with body cameras on and that’s going to be able to tell the real story about exactly what went on and what the officers’ point of view was.”

IMAGE: Axon body camera photo illustration by Bernalwood