Prostitution on Capp Street is on the upswing, residents told police at the monthly community meeting Tuesday evening at the Mission District police station.
Roughly two dozen people made it out to the meeting held on the last Tuesday of every month. Captain Dan Perea and Officer Steve Keith presided over the proceedings.
One community member, who asked to be identified as M, said that it was getting “really bad.”
“I’ve called and called the non-emergency number,” she said. “I don’t see any response. I see them fight. I see them yell. I see the pimps. The other night there were at least 20 prostitutes around.” She added that the prostitutes and their pimps have become emboldened by the lack of police attention.
“They have now taken over and feel entitled to the street,” M said. “I’ve told them to be quiet and they’ve said ‘Oh really, what are you going to do?’”
Other residents echoed her sentiments.
“I’ve been living at 19th and Capp for three years and it’s never been this bad,” said a father who had come with his wife and child. “I hear talk and I see maybe a little bit of stepped-up action short-term, and that slows things down a little bit, but then it goes away. This is an institutionalized problem going back 30 to 40 years.”
The presence of prostitutes on Capp Street has ebbed and flowed over the years. This is not the first time residents have complained about a failure to find a solution, yet things have been getting worse, say neighbors.
“More and more of them have come, and there are more pimps, more prostitutes, more crime, more noise, more everything,” M said.
Another Capp Street resident spoke up about an increase in the use of drugs. “For the last three to five days I’ve witnessed people using illegal drugs at 7:30 in the morning, when I’ve never seen that in the last three years I’ve been in the neighborhood. One morning I saw two guys doing cocaine, and then another morning it was crack, and another morning it was crack again.”
She’s worried about the effect this might have on children who are out at that time. “I’m really concerned because it’s the hour where we think we’re safe and it’s no longer feeling safe for us.”
Perea tried to put the problem in context. “It’s one of those things where it’s such a large issue, where sometimes when we focus attention on one place, it spills over into somewhere else.”
He explained that prostitutes often solicit their services through the internet or belong to groups that travel along different national circuits, going to the East Bay, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even Hawaii, making it difficult for a single police force to solve the issue.
Though they have tried. Perea said that police have been conducting traffic enforcement in an effort to catch customers, and acknowledged that it was sometimes difficult for police to act during these hours because there is normally only one shift of officers on duty, though Perea has scheduled more officers for these times. He also noted that this past week, an initiative by the federal government had cracked down on human trafficking by cooperating with local law enforcement.
But residents said they were not interested in prostitution per se.
“The women are marginalized. That’s a whole other issue. This is a disturbing-the-peace issue. It’s a sound issue,” said a concerned mother, who added that her daughter had been awoken by the disturbances more than once.
“We’re not asking for arrests, we’re asking for some control to slow it down again,” said M., acknowledging that the problem would not disappear. “When there is enforcement, it gets back to tolerable. It’s never going to go away, we know that, but something has to be done.”
And for his part, Perea acknowledged that an increased police presence would help the problem. “You’re absolutely right. Some traffic enforcement, some operations out there will have an impact.”
In other news at the meeting, Perea also informed the audience that the San Francisco Police Department was ramping up operations on its Bait Bike program, an initiative begun earlier this year that places “bait bikes” in different hotspots for bike theft. The bait bikes are equipped with GPS, allowing officers to track down whoever steals the bike.
The program has partnered with the nonprofit organization Safety Awareness For Everyone (SAFE), which has distributed thousands of stickers reading, “Is This A Bait Bike?” to cyclists in the city, according to KTVU.com. The hope is that thieves will not know which bikes are tracked and which are not, avoiding theft in general.
Two guest speakers also addressed the assembly: Jimmer Cassiol, a community liaison from the Department of Public Works (DPW), and Scott Goering, a mediator and facilitator for Community Boards, the country’s oldest, longest-running public mediation program.
Cassiol spoke on a variety of programs run by DPW that seek to involve volunteers in cleaning up the city, including the new 311 mobile app, sparking some conversation on the effectiveness of 311 as a service.
“311 takes longer than one day,” said one community member, who added that the slow response time was making him use the service less.
But Cassiol disagreed. “I’m not seeing the same issue,” he said, adding that he had seen response time from 311 go down from 72 hours to 4 hours, calling performance on street and sidewalk cleaning “phenomenal” and “marvelous.”
And members of the audience agreed.
“I’ve had nothing but unalloyed success with 311,” said a community member, joined by others who generally praised 311 for giving them the ability to report graffiti and litter and have it taken care of quickly.
Scott Goering from Community Boards urged the audience to use mediation rather than legal means to resolve disputes—especially those between neighbors.
“You get along better in your neighborhood when you get along with your neighbors,” said Goering, adding that 85 percent of the conflicts mediated by Community Boards have stayed resolved, because agreements reached by mediation are “far more likely” to last and “more satisfying to the individual” than those resolved in court.
The meeting ended with concerns raised that violent crime in the Mission had increased lately.
“We’ve had four homicides in the Mission this year and three of them have occurred in the last couple weeks. Do you have any update on the recent spike in more violent crimes?” asked a community member.
But he agreed that violence had gone up. “Compared to May and April and March—yeah, it’s totally different, totally different.”
Correction: June 30, 2014
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Perea was “understaffed” during the early morning hours when prostitution is most common. Perea informed Mission Local that in fact he “reviewed the deployment of personnel and adjusted the shift schedule”, creating an overlap of shifts until 4 a.m. to boost prostitution-related enforcement.