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Open Letter to Noe Valley Residents:
My First Six Months
By Mission Police Captain Ron Roth
I have been captain of Mission Station for six months now, and it's made me realize how fast time breezes by. After being in charge of the Bayview Police Station for the past two years, I am now seeing how diverse two adjacent districts can be. Although I am thoroughly enjoying my challenging work in this wonderful district, as a native San Franciscan and 24-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, I am experiencing feelings and seeing dynamics I never knew existed.
To say the Mission District is an "active" community is an understatement. In my first few weeks in "the Mission," I tackled the closing and eviction of the Dancers' Studio (22nd and Mission) and the takeover of BigStep.com at the Bayview Bank Building by anti-displacement protesters. I endured a very raucous and vocal meeting with 500 people at Mission High about Rec and Park's dog-leash policy, and saw an upsurge in gang violence, which included a few shootings. Yes, I'd say it was a very eventful break-in period for me.
This being my fourth tour of duty at Mission Station, I have found some very significant changes upon my return. Drug use and drug dealing are rampant in certain areas, including on lower 24th Street east of Mission Street and at the 16th and Mission Street intersection. At these locations I have found out-of-towners, some from out of the country, taking advantage of San Francisco's tolerant criminal justice system. Unfortunately, these miscreants bring the associated violence with them, so street robberies and assaults are also abundant in these locations.
I was surprised to find that there were no steady beat officers assigned to these violence-prone areas. Most business owners and residents know the value of having beat officers who are familiar with local problems and who become a part of the community they patrol. Beat officers develop a special rapport with the residents and the shop owners, but also with the troublemakers, which usually keeps them in check.
Being of Central American heritage, I am very sensitive to the plight of our immigrant, non-English-speaking neighbors in the lower 24th Street area of the Mission. I have initiated Spanish-speaking community meetings to let our friends in that area know that they do have a voice in city government. I have heard them, month after month, tell their stories of the gang violence, the intimidation, and the incessant drug dealing in their neighborhood.
I have also heard from the longtime residents of the Mission who live in the Garfield Square area and who are becoming increasingly apprehensive about the reopening of the Bernal Dwellings at 26th and Harrison. We all remember, much too vividly, how that complex was once responsible for more murders than any other area in the city.
A very suspicious arson fire at the Brava Theater (formerly the York Theater, on 24th Street) in February brought up the subject of hate crimes again. As a member of the original SFPD Hate Crimes Unit, and later as the officer in charge of that unit, I am reminded how these callous, heinous crimes cannot be forgotten. The Castro District must also have constant vigilance, as this area and its citizens are subject to hate violence.
The biggest problem I have seen in policing the most diverse and challenging district in the city is my lack of staffing. This problem is not unique to me, or to the Mission District; it is the problem of every police captain in San Francisco. It is one of Chief Lau's biggest problems, and one that every major city in America is facing. With almost zero unemployment, an unprecedented rise in Bay Area housing costs, and a high level of baby boomer retirements, it is difficult to attract and maintain a minimum staffing level in the San Francisco Police Department. These conditions are compounded by the SFPD's recent and planned future expansions, which include the airport's new international terminal, along with the civilian takeovers of the Presidio, Hunters Point Shipyard, and Treasure Island. We are severely below minimum staffing levels and will continue to be short officers for some time.
Unfortunately for the citizens of San Francisco, when we are short of officers, the commanding officers of the district stations must make tough choices on deployment. These choices are usually determined much like a triage center at a hospital. We take the worst cases first and "treat" them. In police work, that means that we must address the most violent crime issues in an area before all else. We must also allow for mobile officers to be readily available to respond to 911 calls in any part of our district. As you can see, this quickly becomes a numbers game, with each captain attempting to juggle his or her short staff. Having this in mind, during these times of dwindling personnel, we do not always have the luxury of assigning two full-time beat officers exclusively to Noe Valley.
The decisions made by the captains of the district stations are certainly not made in a vacuum, however. We make every attempt to analyze the problems and study all possible solutions. This process cannot be completed without input from the community. We, as your partners in community policing, solicit your help, your feelings, your questions, and your concerns.
As I do with all interested community groups, I would like to make myself available to share your thoughts and hopefully provide some insight and help for the problems we face together in policing one of the most vibrant areas of the city, the Mission District.
Captain Ron Roth can be reached at Mission Police Station, 630 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110; phone 558-5400, fax 558-5447.
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