By SHALWAH EVANS
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Captain Stephen Tacchini sat on a couch at KLOK radio station with a local business owner, making small talk and waiting to be interviewed on El Show de Vanessa Carias. “You’re famous now!” the 1010 AM station host shrieked with laughter.
While he’s not exactly famous, the September spike in Mission District murders has sent the 31-year San Francisco Police Department veteran to a series of community meetings. Despite the Mission District assignment being a demotion, residents said Tacchini has risen to the occasion and taken it seriously.
“He made a real effort to get to know the neighbors,” said Erica Levin of the Inner Mission Community Association. “He’s totally accessible. He’s amazing. You can just call Steve and talk to him yourself.”
Levin, along with Philip Lesser of the Mission Merchants, said that Tacchini will show up to anything the community members invite him to. In the case of El Show, however, it was Tacchini who reached out, Carias said. He told her he wanted to make an extra effort to find out the needs of the Spanish-speaking community and put the word out that the police and community it serves should be working together.
Carias thought it was a great idea to have him on the show for a series of interviews. The September visit was Tacchini’s fourth visit to the show in five weeks, and again he made his plea for cooperation. He gave the number for the anonymous tip line and invited listeners to call him, just as he did at a meeting held at the Mission Recreation Center in early September.
Not all of his public outings have been well received. Most residents who attended the meeting at My Corner Cafe balked when he advised them to pour bleach on their steps to keep the homeless away. Most residents, he said, want the police to just make the homeless disappear, but that’s not going to happen.
“We have to operate within the laws and city policy,” he said. We can check on their well being, but unless they’re committing a crime we can’t make them go away.”
At times El Show callers challenged Tacchini, saying that they see police ignore crimes occurring in their neighborhoods and that they don’t trust the police. His only response was that as captain he tries to make sure that doesn’t happen. When callers pressed the issue of violence being on the rise he returned to the plea he makes most often: keep your eyes and ears open and cooperate with police to solve crimes.
“I welcome criticism, I welcome suggestions, I welcome ideas,” he told listeners. “But you have to call me first.”
When he initially received the Mission District assignment last February, Tacchini wasn’t happy. It came after Police Chief Heather Fong demoted him from deputy chief to captain. He declined to talk about the reason for the demotion—alleged inappropriate behavior regarding a domestic violence case involving his son.
“The media doesn’t showcase the good,” he said. “If I make a mistake it’s going to be in the paper. If I do something good you’ll never read about it.”
But some Mission District residents said Tacchini has made some visible changes, beginning with increasing police presence in troubled areas. Some said they’ve never seen a captain reach out the way he does.
Tacchini has also pledged a commitment to an environmental assessment of the neighborhood. Once you improve the appearance of a neighborhood, crime declines, he said.
This assessment will include scaling down trees where “pimps and prostitutes” take shelter, cleaning up garbage in the streets, and removing graffiti. He also forged a relationship with officers and day laborers to keep Cesar Chavez clean of urine, feces, and garbage, but neighbors nearby said this hasn’t yet worked.
Captain Tacchini said he didn’t consider this position a windfall when he first began. Now, however, he describes it as “kind of like being the chief of police of your own station.” And he said he has embraced it.
“He’s a nice guy,” said Carias right before the show. “To have contact with the police where we live, it’s important to us. It’s something that’s never happened before. It means things are changing.”