Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

Crime data show
declines, stability

NEWS


s.hemmelgarn@ebar.com

Tina Beachy participated in an August 13 vigil in Duboce Park to memorialize Bryan "Feather" Higgins, a Radical Faerie who was severely injured and taken off life support. Some residents have expressed concern about crime in the area.
Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Many have expressed concern about crime in the Castro and Duboce Triangle neighborhoods recently, following the death of a gay man who was attacked on Church Street and a shooting near 18th and Collingwood streets earlier this month, and a hate crime at the Pink Saturday street party in June.

But data on incidents pulled from the San Francisco Police Department's website and analyzed by the Bay Area Reporter show that overall incidents have largely decreased over the past six months or remained stable.

The B.A.R. aggregated data from crimemapping.com, which contains data reported to police and is available through the San Francisco Police Department's website.

One area the paper reviewed was the half-mile around 18th and Castro streets from late February through late August.

In March, there were 30 incidents of assault or battery, while in July, there were eight. Through August 20, there were 10.

The most common type of case was "noise nuisance." In March, there were 52, while there were 37 in July and 41 through August 20. The area saw a total of 1,106 incidents.

Bryan "Feather" Higgins, 31, was found on the ground near 100 Church Street the morning of August 10. He died three days later after his family removed him from life support. Police had not announced any arrests as of Wednesday morning, August 27, but they recently released video footage they say shows another man starting to attack him.

Within one-fifth of a mile of the middle of Church Street, there were 12 cases of assault or battery in March. July saw 13 such cases, and through August 19, there were two.

Petty theft, which can include shoplifting, accounted for 24 incidents in March, eight in July, and five through August 19. The area saw a total of 439 incidents during the time period the B.A.R. reviewed.

 

'Extensive' problem

Gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose District 8 includes the Castro and Duboce Triangle, talked about crime in the area in a message he posted to Facebook August 13, the day Higgins died.

Wiener said "the tragic attack" on Higgins was "another example of the very real public safety challenges we are facing in the Castro/Upper Market area. The problem is extensive, and the vicinity around the Market Street Safeway has real issues."

Wiener said he and others were working with police "to address the day-in-day-out criminal behavior we are seeing. We get numb about it, because we see so much," but "When you allow criminal behavior to go unchecked, it inevitably escalates and leads to violence."

He wants to get the SFPD back to full staffing. He noted that even as the city's population has grown, "the city didn't fund any academy classes," and the department has "shrunk" to less than 1,700 officers. The city charter mandates 1,971. Weiner pointed to his own efforts on the board to pay for academy classes, "but, until we re-grow the department, we need to make do with what we have, and that means smart use of resources to nip in the bud criminal behavior before it escalates like this."

But asked in an interview about needing more staff, police Captain Dan Perea, who oversees Mission Station, said, "I have what I need to get the job done right now." He applauded Wiener's efforts and said, "We've got a lot more cops than we had three years ago," adding, "We're not understaffed. I have over 100 cops working at this station."

However, Perea, whose station includes parts of the Castro and Duboce Triangle, said, "When we get more cops, that's going to increase our ability to maintain public safety and address" other issues.

He said cops in his station "are very proactive," but they cover, "a very busy district."

When there are "a lot of calls for police service, then we become a little more reactive than proactive. ... People are calling for our help and we have to get there."

Many of the statistics in the area around 18th and Castro look positive. Perea said he's particularly "happy" to see a decrease in car burglaries.

"That's been one of the things we've really been proactive on and focused on," he said. The effort has enabled police to arrest "some of the bigger fish" who've been responsible for many burglaries.

The area has also seen a reduction of incidents marked "assault/battery." Recently, Perea said, there have been four officers Thursday through Saturday nights focusing on nightclubs his station oversees. He said concerns include people who are drunk and "not happy," and who are "going to start something."

Alan Beach, 48, a gay man who's lived in the Castro for 21 years, serves as president of the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association. Asked about any changes he's noticed in the Castro in the past six months, Beach said, "I know people are talking about [crime] a lot more," but "I don't know if people are just more aware of it, or it's things are more high profile."

One frequently discussed case has been a hate crime against a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and his husband at this year's Pink Saturday street party, which the Sisters organize and draws thousands of people. No arrests have been announced in that case.

Beach said his "biggest concern" in the neighborhood "is the parking lot behind Walgreens and [the club] Toad Hall."

Beach said the shooting earlier this month, in which the victim wasn't injured and one person was ultimately charged, involved that lot, which draws people who are "partying after the bars close" and "causing a general neighborhood nuisance and disturbance."

He'd like to see the lot gated off and closed during certain hours, a tactic used to address problems at the parking lot by the Castro Theatre several years ago when there were similar problems there.

The lot by Walgreens is an area "we want to keep an eye on," Perea said.

 

City of St. Francis

Perea also said he hears "a lot" of concerns about "certain groups of people who hang out in Jane Warner Plaza," the street park at Market and Castro streets, which people have complained about for years because they feel it draws homeless people, especially youth.

"Some of these younger people who are homeless, we're trying to steer them to services," Perea said, but the "common refrain" is, "This is the life I choose."

"Our position is that if you break the law, we can issue citations, we can make arrests," he said, but just looking out of place isn't illegal.

Perea said, "There's some people that don't like the way they look. They don't want to see them hanging out all day. ... I understand everybody is entitled to their opinion," he said, but "it's not for us to decide who belongs in a certain area. It's a public space."

If people aren't committing crimes, "We won't ever tell them to move, because it's unconstitutional. We won't do it," he said. He noted San Francisco is "the city of St. Francis," who was known for his kindness, and while police enforce the ban on people sitting or lying on sidewalks during certain hours, among other laws, "We have to respect people's rights and show a little compassion, as well."

Dennis Richards, 51, who's gay and has lived in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood for 14 years, said while there may not be an increase in crime incidents overall, at least anecdotally, "Clearly, there's been a difference, and it's been negative."

"I think the population of folks who are doing the crime is increasing," he said, while "the nature" of incidents, which include drug dealing, "seem more brazen."

He said the area behind the Safeway and near the Muni tracks offers "anonymity" and "a place to hang out and be bad."

Richards noted the area around Church and Market is "at the juncture" of Mission, Northern, and Park police stations, and that can make it tricky when trying to get help from police, who say things like, "That's not our precinct" and give callers "the run around," he said.

He said his neighborhood should be overseen by one police station, and it should be Mission Station. "We're really part of the Castro," he said.

Perea, who noted police district boundaries are reviewed every 10 years, said, "We're happy to police whatever assignment we get."

Police Captain Greg McEachern, who oversees Northern Station, and Captain Raj Vaswani, who's in charge of Park Station, didn't respond to emailed questions.

Dennis Roybal is the resident manager of a large apartment building at 400 Duboce Avenue, near where Higgins was attacked.

Roybal said, "There's a lot of activity in the area." He said the recycling center that had been located at the Safeway had drawn "a large transient population" but since the center closed "the activity level with the homeless has gone down quite a bit." However, he said, there's still a problem with people who appear to be mentally ill.

"There are people that scream all night long," said Roybal, while there are "others that scream all during the day." One man who "usually hangs out" at Church and Duboce "screams he wants to start a race war."

He said he calls police "very frequently about the people that sit and lie on the sidewalk," as well as people who are "passed out drunk" in the bronze chairs in the neighborhood that are designed as public art. There are seven in front of his building.

Police have "generally" been responsive, he said, but "sometimes it takes them a little longer, because I know they've got a lot of other things they're dealing with."

Roybal, who's "over 50" and straight, said, "I would like to see the police be a little more proactive in that location, to do patrols rather than coming out when I call them because there's a crazy man in front of my building."

Robert Young III, 30, is homeless, and was sitting outside the Safeway at Church and Market on a recent Sunday night. Young, who's gay, said he spends "a few hours" in the area "every couple days" for the past two weeks.

He said he hasn't really seen fighting or screaming, and "I feel safe around here."

Young wants to establish roots in the city.

"I feel comfortable in this place," he said, and like Perea, he noted, it's "the city of St. Francis."

The city's Human Rights Commission is conducting an LGBTQ community safety survey. People can take the survey in English at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3LHG2J8

and in Spanish at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CFNRL9L.

 






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