San Francisco’s chief of police, George Gascón, paid a visit to Mission district-based Community Boards Thursday to show support for the organization, which tries to snuff out neighborhood conflict before it escalates.
“Generally, the solutions that come out of the criminal justice system aren’t very good,” said Gascón praising mediation to an audience of Community Boards staff and volunteers and local media.
“How do we take it to the next level?” he asked, mentioning loitering and other misdemeanor infractions that the organization currently doesn’t mediate. With the state and the city in budget crisis, everyone is looking for ways to minimize law enforcement costs.
Community Boards attempts to mediate problems before they escalate and need legal counsel, which its staff doesn’t provide. For $10 or less a staff member trained in mediation will negotiate disagreements between neighbors or landlords and tenants. They also take on noise complaints like dogs barking.
Police staff currently hand out Community Boards referral cards, accounting for 25-30 percent of its incoming calls, according to the program’s executive director, Darlene Weide.
The organization conducts regular mediation training for a range of professionals. That 40-hour training costs $595.
Gascón’s visit was timed to coincide with California Mediation Week and comes right before the state assembly will vote on AB 1718, an act increasing the maximum filing fee for in superior court to $13 from $8. That money would go to “dispute resolution” at Community Boards and other California mediation organizations.
“Every year it passes and then gets vetoed by the governor,” Weide said.
Community Boards also provides space for San Francisco’s Community Court twice monthly. The Community Court provides resolution for some misdemeanors without the use of the justice system, a process know as restorative justice.
Community Boards used to have its own restorative justice program, in the days when it had a budget of about $1 million, according to Weide. Today its budget is around $300,000 and it has only two full-time and one half time positions.
She said they depend on a cadre of 300 volunteers, but it was unclear if all had received training.
The vast majority of the organization’s cases come from the Mission District, in part because it’s located here but also because of the Mission’s larger population of people without legal recourse.
It was the first time Gascón had come to the organization since taking office in August 2009.
According to the organization, the city’s police department refers roughly 125 neighborhood disputes to Community Boards every year, and more than 90 percent of the cases mediated are resolved satisfactorily.
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