Stop Crime SF Files for Election Campaign Status
••••••• May 12, 2023 •••••••
On 4/13/23, nearly 50 people piled into the Miraloma Park Clubhouse on O’Shaughnessy Blvd for Stop Crime SF’s citywide annual meeting. Founded as a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2019, Stop Crime SF has grown steadily, now counting 6,000 members. As for funding, Executive Director Frank Noto told the Westside Observer; “We receive donations from individuals, members mostly, and non-profit organizations and a foundation. We also got a couple of donations from families’ donor advised trusts." Recently, Stop Crime SF created a 501(c)4 nonprofit called Stop Crime Action to engage in political advocacy.
One aim of the gathering was to define a vision for the growth of Stop Crime SF. Bolstering this goal was the group’s recent success in lobbying City Hall to approve a $27.6 million budget supplemental to fund SFPD overtime.
It was "a victory in our first battle," announced Frank Noto. Noto also reported some success after lobbying the Police Commission to de-prioritize rather than ban so-called “pretextual” traffic stops. An unstated triumph was seeing Stop Crime SF’s former Executive Director and co-founder, Joel Engardio, elected as D-4 Supervisor.
As articulated previously by Board member Karina Velasquez, motivating the group is the notion that "We cannot let San Francisco become even less safe than it already is."
Feelings versus Statistics
Fortuitously, on the day of this meeting, the SF Controller’s Office issued its 2023 City Survey confirming that San Franciscans do feel less - much less safe. Of the 2,530 residents surveyed, 62% said public safety had worsened since 2019. Here’s the drop in; “Percentage Feeling Safe during Both Day and Night”;
On the other hand, the SF Chronicle laboriously compiled FBI statistics from 2020 that ranked San Francisco as 16th for homicides, rapes, assaults and robberies among large cities. There’s little consolation in data showing that violent crime isn’t as bad as in the past or elsewhere. Because crime correlates with poverty, an affluent city like SF should rank below most metropolitan areas. While statistics may refute recent claims that SF is an incubator of "horrific violent crimes," the City leads the state in property crimes, coming second to Oakland.
Former SFPD officer, Lou Barberini, has documented how property crimes, like car break-ins, are inherently dangerous. Very often, break-in crews carry guns. So, property crimes are menacing. So are the rampant drug use, mental illness, and disorder spreading over City streets.
Supervisor Engardio’s Message
Supervisor Joel Engardio emphasized that; “What matters is how people feel – they don't feel safe." He referenced soaring catalytic converter thefts - some attended by gunfire, the explosion of an illegal drug lab in the Sunset, as well as teen violence at the Stonestown Mall and on MUNI. So, feeling unsafe reflects actual public threats. “These are the crimes that residents feel every day."
Engardio tied SFPD’s shortage of 500 officers to cops not feeling supported. He highlighted the need for the DA and the SFPD to work as partners. Previously, when DA Chesa Boudin and Police Chief Bill Scott appeared together, "it looked like a hostage video," he quipped.
Judges can undermine the good work of the police and the DA. Too many judges have Public Defender backgrounds that tilt toward leniency for criminals. Judges are elected, but the public needs more information about their decisions. He supported City Attorney David Chiu’s appeal to Judge Donna Ryu’s order to stop the clearing tent encampments until “every unhoused resident is accommodated." Judges need to be made aware that the 100 complaints filed in Small Claims Court by displaced homeless folks were orchestrated. Some were fabricated. The claims total $1 million.
Boosting the Court Watch and Judges’ Report Card projects and greater transparency from the DA’s Office and ... elected officials should be required to ride MUNI and walk City streets once a month to experience what residents encounter.”
Supervisor Engardio recounted how he had struggled for 8 months to get case outcome data from DA Boudin, only to find that convictions went down and diversions went up. Now he wants an accessible DA Dashboard. In a push for more transparency, he asked the Board’s Budget and Legislative Analyst to review best practices for posting crime outcome data. After affirming that; “Lasting public safety needs equitable housing, education and healthcare for all," Engardio added; “Meanwhile, we must address those who are traumatized by crime. It’s the only way to tell what the City is doing about crime."
Stop Crime SF’s remedy for the public’s sense of vulnerability is to restore agency by working together as engaged citizens. Importantly, as Vice President and attorney Eric Chang explained; “citizen engagement is critical to mitigate crime."
Cops, Courts and Judges
Captain Jack Hart from the Park Police Station borrowed a maxim from the Oakland Raiders’ Performance Coach; “The human brain cannot outperform a negative self-image." Troubling police behaviors nationwide have tarnished the self-image of local cops, leaving some "lost in the fog." With the election of a new DA and Supervisor, there's a feeling that "cops count and police matter." He vowed to be accountable and responsive to community crime concerns.
Hatun Noguera described Stop Crime SF’s “Court Watch" program, whereby volunteers attend court proceedings and relay the information to a coordinator. Instead of operating in empty courtrooms, judges realize that they are in the spotlight. Here’s the concept; “Judges must feel pressure to follow the law." That’s important because judges are elected and serve 6-year terms.
By monitoring court proceedings, Stop Crime SF discovered that a convicted serial offender sentenced to 5 years - got released with a GPS anklet. He went on to commit further felonies. Likewise, most of the 10 people arrested for looting Union Square stores were placed on probation or diversion. Yet the stolen goods were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Weak penalties for such lucrative crimes encourage repeat offenses, one member commented. Court Watch brings these lapses to light.
A related project is the “Judge Report Card." Susan and Ed Fisch explained that 16 judges are up for election next March. Yet we know nothing about their judicial history. While Ballotpedia sends questionnaires to judges, half the questions are fluff. Worse, most judges don’t return these surveys. Because judges can undo the collaborative work of the SFPD and the DA, it's important to identify unreasonably lenient judges. Volunteers are needed to check if judges grant bail to violent offenders or if released defendants go out to commit more crimes.
New and Future Chapters
Pratibha Tekkey explained how Tenderloin organizers recently launched a Stop Crime SF initiative. They linked with other neighborhood groups and existing safety projects to curtail open-air drug markets. They lobbied the police and City Hall. Greg Johnson from the SRO Collaborative reported a big spike in arrests and a 40% reduction in crime between February and April. Unfortunately, some of that crime migrated to nearby neighborhoods, but overall, he noted that crime in SF came down by 10%.
The evening ended with the formation of small groups to envision the future of Stop Crime SF. One promising proposal was to set up Stop Crime SF chapters in each supervisorial district - with access to local police captains and supervisors. Boosting the Court Watch and Judges’ Report Card projects and greater transparency from the DA’s Office were also prioritized. And, to counteract cocooning, elected officials should be required to ride MUNI and walk City streets once a month to experience what residents encounter.
But making progress against crime requires more volunteers. One way to make the City safer is to join Stop Crime SF.
Dr. Derek Kerr is a San Francisco investigative reporter for the Westside Observer and a member of SPJ-NorCal. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
May 12, 2023