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Notes from City Hall Meeting about Police District Station Boundaries

I decided to attend yesterday’s joint meeting of the San Francisco Police Commission and Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee. I believe it was (and will be again) televised on SFGovTV or you can probably find it on the SFGovTV web site if you’d like to hear what was said with your own ears and you have 3 hours or so to burn.

The “scintillating” headline from the local papers was that the Public Safety Strategies Group’s District Station Boundaries Analysis Report recommended closing 5 District Stations. Unfortunately, that wording frames the report in a negative fashion that doesn’t really provide any context of the reasons why and the benefits of reducing the number of district stations from 10 to 5.

Even some of the Police Commission members couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the idea that improving the technology in the field so that officers could stay on the streets could help eliminate the need for so many district stations and give the citizens (and SFPD) what they want, which is increased visibility of police on patrol in their neighborhoods.

What did I learn last night?

  • 76% of community members surveyed and 86% of SFPD workers want more officers on patrol as opposed to being forced to go to their stations to perform administrative work on a limited number of antiquated computer systems.
  • Crime trends are unchanged over the past 5 years
  • The report suggests boundary changes that help eliminate boundaries that run through the middle of neighborhoods
  • Staffing should be based on the number of incidents and the calls for services in the area covered by the District station – this means the largest number of officers would be in the suggested Northeast district because the majority of incidents and calls for service happen in that section of the City. Also, that area of the City has the highest number of visitors from around the Bay Area and the all-important tourists from around the world.
  • Southern (covers Rincon Hill neighborhood) and Central Stations need to be replaced, with the plans to build a new Southern Station in Mission Bay for around $20 million beginning to start this coming fiscal year (July 1st)
  • The workload between stations is very unbalanced, ranging from around 450 calls for service per year per officer on the western side of the City to over 1,000 calls for service per year per officer downtown and some other neighborhoods. There are about 2,000 SFPD officers total.
  • The women’s locker room at Central Station is basically a concrete box built in the middle of the parking garage, and that’s just one of many facility problems at Central Station. Southern Station has its own set of issues detailed in the report.
  • The streets that mark the boundaries for district stations are possibly the least patrolled of them all. Also, the 10 police stations tend to act as separate entities rather than teams all supporting the same tactics, priorities, and goals. If one District is focused on prostitution, the result is that prostitutes move over to the next Police District’s boundaries, for example.
  • Instead of continuing the cult of personality where neighborhood groups basically get to know the Station Captain exclusively and all freak out when the Captain is moved to another station, we will get a chance to get to know the patrol officers. The idea is that officers will patrol particular sectors (areas) and residents will become familiar with those officers (and vice versa) because that certain set of officers will be in the neighborhood to keep an eye on things instead of often at the station waiting to enter information into an old computer system
  • There was a lot of concern expressed last night about what was perceived as the lack of outreach during the community input stage of the study. However, it was noted by the consulting firm that they made phone calls in order to get input from residents who would never come out to a community meeting much less actually stand up and speak at the meeting. While I appreciate community input, we’re all going to say that we basically want a SFPD officer standing outside the door of our home 24 hours a day if we’re asked for our opinions – selfishness is human nature, right? Like the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, this report is based on the demands for service – for the police, the demand for service can only be objectively quantified by the number of incidents that occur and the number of calls for service
  • The ideas of hiring more police officers or hiring civilians to do paperwork came up. I’m just a casual observer, but it seems to be pretty difficult to find qualified folks who are willing to be police officers in urban areas these days. Also, I like the idea of hiring civilians to do administrative functions, but I don’t believe it is practical for most tasks. Heck, they could probably get volunteers (maybe they already do) to help with basic “how-to” information. The problem is the technology that requires officers to go back to the station instead of being able to stay out on the streets in our neighborhoods.
  • As Supervisor Mirkarimi astutely mentioned, the report is great, but it will take political will to actually implement any of the suggested changes. My opinion is that unless there are a lot of neighborhood groups encouraging the politicians to implement some or all of these changes, they’ll never see the light of day

First things first – we need to buy the technology systems our police need in order to stay out on patrol and enable them to file their reports in a mobile manner rather than being forced to go back to their District Station to file paperwork. I commented last night that we only see SFPD in the Rincon Hill neighborhood for special events, which is probably a good sign in general. However, it would be nice to have some SFPD cars or motorcycles in the Rincon Hill neighborhood as a visible presence to influence drivers to slow down while driving through the area and to give pedestrians and bicyclists a break.

This is the early, early stage of this conversation … more to come over the years…

Read the District Station Boundaries Report online
See what other analysis about foot patrols and other SFPD issues are under the microscope

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