It’s 10 a.m., and Officer Kate Joshua has already been on her police shift for four hours, patrolling the streets in a squad car. Now the weather has improved and it’s time to pedal.
She hands me a bulletproof vest. Wear it looser than normal, she tells me. You’ll be breathing heavily and you don’t want it constricting your lungs.
We wheel our bikes — mine is a black hybrid, too — out of the station. We’re going to bike up 17th Street, where we’ll spend a few hours on her beat through the Castro.
“I can see people from a block away getting in an argument over a parking spot,” she says about the advantages of being on a bike.
We ride up and down side streets, into dead ends and shady corners, checking for sleepers or drinkers.
“I don’t just drive by and then leave,” she says, compact and looking cool in her shades. A cop on a bike is “more of a constant presence.”
A lot of the work for the 11 foot patrol officers — many of whom opt for bikes — involves dealing with public drinking. At the Castro and Market Street plaza, we run into our first day drinker.
“Do you have a place to stay?” Joshua asks a man in a ski coat drinking a tall can of Foster’s at 11 a.m. “That would be the better place to be.”
Like anyone trying to be especially nice, her voice is higher and kinder than normal.
“He seemed harmless, but how many beers would it have taken for him to start yelling?” Joshua wonders as the man skulks away. “Better to catch him now than take him to the drunk tank later.”
One of the perks of riding a bicycle is that Joshua can sneak up on people. “He didn’t see me come up,” she says. “He didn’t see me at all.”
Maybe it’s this confidence — or the gray streaks in her hair — but I’m surprised when I discover she’s only 28. Maybe just being a cop makes anyone look older, even if they’re on a bike.
On a one-way side street in the Castro, Joshua breezes around the corner and comes across Franklin. He’s drinking a Budweiser.
“My grandfather killed a slave master,” he says.
“Do you know where you are?” Joshua asks, her tone both determined and skeptical.
“Do you?” he asks.
Joshua reaches for Franklin’s can to dump out the beer, and he bats it away. That’s her cue. She cuffs him, and the undercover cops jump out to back her up. Franklin’s gotten out of hand, but in just a few minutes he calms down and promises to leave.
His exit, however, isn’t without drama. He rips up the ticket Joshua wrote, packs up his sleeping bag and moves on. We do, too.
Except for the occasional trips down sidewalks, Joshua follows all the rules of cycling. She stops at stop signs and uses hand signals, and when a cyclist without a helmet stops to regale her with his near-accident, she just shakes her head: “If you’d seen what I’ve seen…”
She says she probably wouldn’t ticket a cyclist for failing to stop at a stop sign. But red lights? Different story.
“Red lights are big for me. Bikers cause accidents, too. I can be lenient, but I expect everyone to drive as safe as possible.”
On Diamond Street, Joshua glides to a stop where a man stands cursing at a statue of the Virgin Mary outside of a Catholic church.
Two gray-haired women nervously walk around him.
“You’re yelling in front of these nice young ladies,” Joshua says calmly.
The man yells back at Joshua once, tugs on his dog’s leash and walks away.
An old man walks out of the church. “Nice to see you!” he says to Joshua. “I feel so much safer!”
It’s easy to understand why. There is something about being on a bike that makes a cop more present.At the Castro Muni station, a group of young 20-somethings yell out. “Be my valentine, Ms. Joshua!” She brakes. I’m thinking they’re going to get ticketed, but the kids are only smoking cigarettes and drinking soda. Joshua’s there to visit.
David, once a familiar face in the neighborhood, has died, she tells them.
“He had recipes in his head ’cause he wanted to open a restaurant,” one remembers.
“We should have a memorial for him,” a second suggests. “He was really chill.”
Joshua stays for a while. She congratulates one girl in ripped jeans for starting community college. The boy sitting next to her tells Joshua he just quit drinking.
It’s good, Joshua says. Look what happened to David, who, they all know, drank heavily.
We pedal off, thinking about the scene we’ve just left.
“Sometimes,” Joshua says, “I’m a counselor.”