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Face to Face With Officer Bill Boniface
By Alison Pence
Except for the extra-wide leather belt with mace, police radio, and holstered gun, he might be your neighbor out for a bike ride. Meet Officer Bill Boniface, the "beat cop" for Upper Noe Valley.
We met for an interview at Day Street Park, he wearing wrap-around metallic blue glasses, shorts, a very large scrape on his leg from getting caught on the Muni tracks, and a friendly smile, and I wearing the expression and crumpled clothes of a woman who had just wrestled two 2-year-olds to the ground.
Born in Missouri and raised in Washington State, Officer Boniface is married and lives in Concord. He commutes on BART to Balboa Park, then walks to the Ingleside Police Station off San Jose Avenue. He has been on the San Francisco police force for 29 years. It was his first job out of the Police Academy. The BART stations were his first detail. Over the years, he has worked at Northern Police Station (in the Fillmore) and for the Traffic Accident Investigation Bureau.
Five years ago, Officer Boniface came to Ingleside and started in "the school car." This is the patrol that goes to all of the schools and responds to school incidents. He also supervised the Orange Belts, the eighth-grade school crossing guards. He has been riding his bike and walking the beat in Upper Noe for about a year.
"I put in 12 to 25 miles a day working from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday," he says. His turf extends from Bosworth to Diamond and from 30th Street to Cesar Chavez.
"Most of my route is along the business corridors [like outer Church Street], because that's where I'm needed. I try not to insulate myself from businesses by just riding by. I often get off my bike so that the shop owners can talk with me."
He also covers a section of Mission Street and may spend close to half his time there because it "generates more reports."
Officer Boniface, 55, takes the title of Peace Officer seriously. "I love being outside in the fresh air and talking to people. I feel it's my job to get to know people in the community so that I can resolve conflicts more effectively."
The downside, he goes on to say, is that people don't want to get involved, they are suspicious or afraid of the police, and some even commit crimes.
What are the worst crimes in his part of Noe Valley?
"The strong-arm robbery where the criminal preys on the weak," Boniface says. "It's awful when an old lady falls and breaks her hip during a purse snatching."
Traffic is also an area where residents need to exercise caution. "Red light runners and stop sign gunners endanger us all, especially pets and children. So be aware and travel in pairs."
Boniface, like other officers, struggles with the issue of homelessness. Balancing the rights of panhandlers with those of residents and merchants can be a high-wire act. Store owners often call him for assistance in rousing sleepers from their stoops. Usually there are no problems, he says, but sometimes -- particularly in cases of intoxication or urinating in public -- he has to make an arrest.
Another tough assignment in this neighborhood is enforcing the leash law. "If I had a clear message from the community, it would make my job easier," he says, referring to the current tug-of-war over dogs on the grass at Day Street Park.
When it comes to graffiti and vandalism, Boniface is truly dedicated. "If someone could tell me where and when, I would camp out all night to make an arrest."
Asked if he has any special requests for Noe Valleyans, he says yes, please report all crimes, and keep an eye out for your neighbors. "Ninety percent of my good arrests are because the public gave me information. They make me look good."
Witnesses and victims ought not to be afraid for their safety, he says. "Bad guys don't retaliate."
Ruggedly handsome and deeply tanned, Officer Boniface must have a beauty secret. So I inquired, "What kind of sunscreen do you wear?" "None," he replied. "I'm sorry," I said, "but given your occupation and considering your age, I'm going to have to write you a ticket."
If you'd like to speak with Officer Bill Boniface about a community problem, call Ingleside Police Station at 553-1603.