Did the Mission avert a gang war?
At a community meeting last week at Mission Police Station, Capt. Greg Corrales for the first time offered details on the fatal shooting of Aldo “Trigger” Troncoso — the neighborhood’s first homicide of the year — and the aftermath.
Stories of violence averted are not often told, but that’s the story Corrales offered the assembled group, and repeated the following evening while delivering a special report to the Police Commission on gang violence in the Mission.
“Because of open communication,” Corrales told the commission, “we were able to prevent more violence from happening.”
While not all of the details could be independently confirmed, some community leaders involved in the process agreed with the basic outline.
The trouble began in February, when Sureño graffiti appeared in Norteño territory, at 19th and Bryant.
“Once we saw that,” Corrales said at the neighborhood meeting, “we knew there was going to be trouble.”
A few days later, on February 26, a young man named Aldo Troncoso was shot in Sureño territory, at 17th and Mission.
Immediately after the incident, Mission Station pulled its foot patrols and prostitution abatement officers off the streets and put them into so-called “felony cars,” where they would respond only to potential felony calls.
At the same time, Mission Station officers also began meeting with community organizations to share information, devise strategies for de-escalating the violence, and ask for advice. Corrales said that police already had an open line of communication with the Community Response Network and HOMEYSF, but after the shooting they began meeting with other community organizations that work with Mission youth, including Mission Beacon, the Boys and Girls Club and the Central American Resource Center, known as CARECEN.
Officers, both plainclothes and uniformed, began patrolling 17th and Mission, where friends of Troncoso had put up a memorial. So did members of the Community Response Network, and it was their presence, said Corrales, that did a great deal to defuse potentially violent situations.
At one point a bundle of blue balloons was hoisted over the memorial — blue for the colors of the Sureño gang. A community leader intervened and convinced the victim’s friends to take them down. When a newsman reporting on the memorial was roughed up by friends of the victim, the situation was again defused through diplomacy rather than direct police action.
At times the plans of the police and the community groups dovetailed strangely. A squadron of officers began combing the Mission, conducting adult and juvenile probation searches and arresting anyone in violation. That was one way to get people off the streets.
The community groups cruised through the Mission in vans, looking for kids who might be a danger to themselves or others. When they found them, they took them to the movies, fed them pizza, tried to talk them down. Another way to get people off the streets.
Still, there was more trouble ahead. A shootout on March 2 left the intersection at 24th and Harrison littered with spent bullet casings and sent the victim to San Francisco General Hospital. Several people who attended the neighborhood meeting lived within a few blocks of the shooting. A few gave eyewitness accounts. “I do not,” said one woman, “ever want to look out my window again and see a man crawling behind a car with blood coming out of his chest.”
“We do know who the shooter was,” Corrales told the group of neighbors. “We may not get him for that. But we’ll get him for something.” The victim, Corrales said, was a known Norteño, and a victim in four previous shootings.
A few hours after the shooting at 24th and Harrison, Corrales got word that a Sureño had just been shot in the Bayview. When police realized that he too was headed for SF General, where the waiting room had filled with angry Norteños, they asked the Community Response Network for help.
Corrales credits Project Wraparound, a follow-up program for the victims of violence run by SF General, for defusing the situation at the hospital. “There was not violence,” he told the commission, “though there was huge potential. This is why there is such an incentive for open communication with community groups.”
The biggest challenge lay ahead: Troncoso’s funeral was scheduled for that weekend. Both the site of his funeral and the funeral home where his visitation would be held were within Norteño territory.
Police coordinated their efforts with Mission Beacon, the Boys and Girls Club, HOMEY and Project Wraparound, especially around the funeral. Those attending the funeral were escorted through rival gang territory, and police were everywhere, as local blogs noted.
It’s now been a month since the shooting at 24th and Harrison. Corrales considers the situation defused, and believes that the only shooting since then, of five men outside El Tin Tan on 16th Street, was not gang-related. “Four of the victims were not gangbangers,” Corrales said at the neighborhood meeting. “They had no gang credentials. Most likely a person who was banned from the bar, or who had a dispute with the owner, came back and shot the place up.”
“Right now, the gang issue has been our number-one priority,” he continued. “We probably have one of the best plainclothes units in the country.”
The question remains: If collaborating with community groups is proving a success, how will a city faced with a budget deficit of $360 million maintain any community groups to collaborate with?
Citywide, violence prevention funds have dropped to $8 million from $13 million, and are expected to drop another $1 million this year, said CARECEN Program Coordinator Lizbett Calleros.
Supervisor David Campos, a former Police Commission member who is currently on the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee, has a goal to increase — or at least maintain — funds for community-based groups from the city’s Department of Children, Youth and Their Families.
It’s a tough sell. In a situation where even the police — historically insulated from much of the city’s budget angst — are fighting for funding, will they support funding for the things that community groups say fight crime, like weekend camping trips?
Campos said he has spoken with interim Police Chief Jeff Godown, and it’s clear to him that Godown too wants community groups to have the resources they need.
“Young people get in trouble if they have nothing to do,” Campos said. “We want them to make the right choices.”