Officer Steve Keith speaks to a Mission resident at Tuesday's community meeting with the police. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros

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 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.

Perea corrected the questioner, saying that there had only been two homicides in the Mission this year—one on June 13 at 15th and Mission Streets and another on June 16 at 16th and Capp Streets.

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.

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  1. It’s weird if prostitution is coming back to Capp Street because many of the buildings on Capp are $1.5 million or above. I thought the community there has driven out the working girls.

    I owned a building on Capp around 2000 or so and it was wall-to-wall hookers at night. They used to do their make up on my stoop and my tenants were constantly calling me up about it – not that I could do anything about it.

    But in recent years the problem has moved on, or so I thought anyway. Just a couple of blocks east and north of there are post-industrial streets where virtually nobody lives. Would it really kill these girls, and their pimps and johns, to work where there are no residents?

    How about Harrison and 19th after dark? Can we adopt an Amsterdam-style zone where these girls and the guys who love them can get their oats without disturbing decent people?

    1. It’s a free market and these are public streets. Surely they are where the action is aka clients.

      Maybe that 1.5M investment isn’t sounding so good after all?

      And yes, it’s hilarious that someone is saying ‘I’ve been here 3 years and this is the worst it’s been’. Really… Your realtor didn’t tell you? Did u miss a turn for Pac Heights along the way?

      Gentrification is one thing but slow, partial, and uneven gentrification is a whole different game. There are still many blocks untouched and unwanted by newcomers and that’s looking like an equilibrium now.

      Condoms? Feces? You must have run in to the ‘welcome to SF’ greeting committee. They make appearances all over town by the way …

      1. It’s also illegal, which trumps the “free market” idea. I had always figured it had gone away more because of the internet which provides safer, easier ways of getting hooked up.

        It was only ever a problem for me because my tenants complained a lot. But there is nothing an owner can do about it apart from file complaints to the cops. It’s really up to the residents to kick up a stink, and I never lived in my building there. Or of course they could just move some place else.

        Since the “clients” were in cars, there is no reason why the business could not have moved a few blocks to a more industrial area. In fact some more enlightened cities have created zones where prostitution is tolerated, in order to spare the residential areas.

        I don’t have a problem with prostitution per se, and it will never go away. But I do understand why local residents do not want lines of cars circling late at night, not to mention some of the other quality-of-life issues that are often associated with that particular profession.

  2. They are not only on Capp St but South Van Ness Ave as well.
    Drive by the Laundromat at South Van Ness and 20th and watch the prostitutes run in and out. It is a blight.

  3. Why do you repeatedly run this prostitution story and not mention South Van Ness and Shotwell Sts?

  4. This is bullshit. I used to work on Capp Street as a service provider for homeless people and sex workers and also did some community engagement. Most of the neighbors were pretty great people, but there was always a small very vocal sector who screamed about how Capp Street or 16th street plaza ‘was the worst that it has ever been.’ Growing up near Capp Street and seeing it through the 80s, 90s and even much more recently, it was hard not to laugh in people’s faces, even if some of their concerns were actually legitimate.

    1. I think you missed the part where all the people saying it’s the “worst ever” are recent transplants who apparently had no idea what the neighborhood they moved into was really like in 2011…let alone what is was like 10, 20 , 30 years ago, when it was much worse.

  5. It seems like the new Mission Station captain has given up on Capp Street, and maybe South Van ness & Shotwell. Would noisy, all night activity (prostitution, drug sales, or whatever) be tolerated in other neighborhoods?

  6. I’m for decriminalizing, regulating and taxing it. Might take the exploitation out of it as well. One funny fact is the only people I know who use prostitutes are my friends who work in tech. (shrugs)

  7. Bait bikes? What about “bait cops” to walk around the mission at night to catch the muggers and thieves? I swear, I read mission local all the time and it’s full of stories where someone got robbed a gun point. Seriously, Mayor Lee get off your high tech financial high horse and focus on the citizens that put you in office!

  8. It is interesting living at Capp and 18th… having friends be protheletized to by prostitutes while looking for parking. Early morning walks to the bus stop and seeing used condoms shriveled up. Side-stepping piles of human feces but still smelling that it is human shit. Yesterday splashes of blood on the sidewalk too. Yes, the house I live in is worth about $1.5m right now… but I’m renting. Rent control for that matter. You get what you pay for…

  9. I’ve lived in the area for 14 years. Things changed the moment Captain Greg Corrales took over the Mission Station. When he left, things have gotten progressively worse. SFPD needs to get back to Captain Corrales’s strategy.

    Those of you thinking it’s no big deal are wrong — with prostitution comes drugs and violence. And those of you thinking, “Duh, what did you expect when you moved into the MIssion?” really aren’t helping anyone. We all deserve to live in a safe neighborhood.

    1. I agree with you completely, two wrongs don’t make a right, this is not a healthy image and this is not what the Mission is all about 🙁

  10. I do not know if I should laugh or cry. I read the comments on the latest Mission Local story, and found many of them out of context and so egotistic; who has lived here the longest and who hasn’t, who is in favor or against, who has the right for an opinion based on their history, others with a somewhat conformist approach, etc. Very few were constructive. Regardless of the Mission’s long history about this matter, it does not make it a historical treat to be proud of or known by, while we all know is not OK, especially if outsiders come to “exercise their rights” while they violate ours. We need to focus on what affects us as a Hood, as working/business/family/community and compassionate beings, some prostitutes are under-aged and severely abused, there is lots of violence against neighbors, solicitors and bystanders, all sorts of crime against public or private property, illegal substances consumption, UNBEARABLE noise and filth, etc.
    We need proposals/ solutions; it does not matter if you live/just moved into the Mission “OWN IT”

  11. Oops! I forgot to post the proposals I have heard through long conversations with community members:
    1.- Put signs on all windows stating that as neighbors we will be taking plate numbers, video and photos and we’ll be making them public.
    2.- Placing surveillance cameras randomly on corners, half blocks, business and centralize data; edit and send to media police department, mayor’s office, supervisors websites, school district, etc…
    3.- Make it official , every time we see them tell them to move away from the residential area, careful not to engage in violence,
    4.- Handout pamphlets or brief printed notes to the prostitutes, with referrals to seek protection to ask for help, reaffirming that they deserve to be treated with respect and that there are options.
    5.- Gather signatures to petition the removal of prostitutes from residential areas.
    6.- More undercover police, so they call the patrols cars and enforce raids.

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