Reported assaults around Dolores Park between May 23rd and August 31st.

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Vivid balloons mark the incidents: 12 assaults on Dolores between 18th and 19th streets, including the stabbing that occurred early this past Saturday; one at 20th and Church; two at 18th and Dolores. All in the last three months.

This is according to the website, updated daily by the San Francisco Police Department.

The balloons make crime-mapping look cheery — like a gumball machine of crime. There’s the violet ski mask of armed robbery, the traffic-cone-orange bonfire of arson, the hot pink syringe of drug/alcohol violations. The latter cluster around 21st and Van Ness, while the canary-yellow exclamation points that mark “Disturbing the Peace” appear just about everywhere. Disturbing the peace knows few boundaries except uphill — the exclamations thin out as the Mission slopes up into the Castro.

Seen in context, the crime map’s gumball balloons reveal a Dolores Park that is sparsely criminal — definitely safer than it was 15 years ago, when it was Norteño territory and its primary reputation was as a place to buy heroin. Mapped today, the park is much safer than both the 16th (32 assaults) and 24th (26 assaults) Street BART stops. Market Street and the Tenderloin are such a bright swath they make the Mission look like a collection of nunneries.

Mission Police Captain Greg Corrales recommends looking at the situation temporally. The Mission has a cyclical window of risk that opens every night between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m., mostly outside of bars, where people spill out to fight, mug or be mugged.

“Any intoxicated person seems like easy prey,” said Corrales. “And any neighborhood at 2 a.m. can be problematic.”

Corrales’ own perception of Dolores Park is one of a web of quality-of-life complaints — especially regarding rising drug sales. “There have not been that many violent assaults,” he said. “This is the first violent crime that we’ve seen at the park in a long time.”

Few police officers remember the Dolores Park of 15 years ago. “Everyone who’s been around that long is retired now,” he said.

These days, plainclothes officers wander the park looking for drugs to buy, and every team patrolling the Mission is required to spend 15 minutes walking through the park. A squad car does an endless loop between Dolores, Garfield and Franklin parks. doesn’t take much of a long view — the system can only process a very small wedge of information, and so the crimes of the past vanish to make room for the crimes of the future. Three months at a time is all we get of the nefariousness afoot in San Francisco. For more time, special requests need to be made. It’s a small window into one aspect of our neighborhood. But it’s what we’ve got.

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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  1. Thanks for keeping us informed. We all need to have each other’s backs. More people want to plague our nirvana city with negativity and harm, keep the peace and know you have friends in this world.

  2. I have been in San Francisco since 1994. That year I remember the reports of a gang of young men attacking and robbing a man as he got off MUNI at 18th and Church. I lived at 18th and Noe. I was too scared to go near Dolores Park after dark. In the years after that as I have acclimated to life in the City, I have learned which areas are dangerous and which are not. 6th and Mission, and surrounding areas are scary even in daylight. Leavenworth, and Tenderloin can be scary in some areas, Market Street at night, any part of it can be dangerous. But Dolores Park? Safe. I’d still go there at any time day or night, bring a date and look at the city, enjoy the quiet, feeling very safe. Keep an eye on your surroundings. A gang of 12 people coming up on you must be considered threatening and you should change your route or hide, or get to someplace out of their way. Especially at night. Even when I encounter 2-3 people walking late at night, I cross the street or step into a doorway, even have my phone in my hand ready to dial in plain sight so they see it. It’s being careful. Always be aware of your surroundings. I have walked on the streets of this city at 2-3 am many times, it’s usually very quiet and peaceful. It’s like I have the city all to myself. When I find myself in an unfamiliar neighborhood, or lots of people, I walk like I know where I am going and make a beeline out of there. I have never had any problem, ever. I am not blaming the victim, anyone including myself, can be a victim. I am just saying use caution at all times, and never take your safety for granted. San Francisco is a big city afterall. And we have the keystone kops protecting us. Be safe everyone!

  3. Scary. You know, I’ve only been in San Francisco for 4 years, and the entire time I’ve always lived by Dolores Park. Up until now, I’ve never considered it to be dangerous. I used to walk through the park late at night on my way home from the bars. I’d see people, but no one looked threatening. About 2 weekends ago, I had just returned from a concert downtown. The J Church dropped me off at the 20th and Church intersection. I was walking back down Church towards 19th when I had to walk through a large crowd of young-ish folks that were all congregated around a car pulled off to the side. Kids were running up and down Church from the 19th park entrance. This was around 12:45 AM. They were rambunctious and were kind of eyeing me as I walked away. It was the first time I felt concerned for my safety. Then I hear about the guy getting stabbed. Obviously I’ll be more careful next time.