Some 30 Mission residents who crowded into a monthly police meeting held Tuesday grilled the neighborhood’s police captain and supervisor about their plans to address what residents described as a clear increase in criminal activity on their streets that has left them fearful.
The group blamed the police and city officials for being ineffective in prosecuting sex workers and dismantling homeless tent encampments that have cropped up on the Mission’s sidewalks. It was one of the largest monthly meetings in the last year.
“It’s never been this bad, I’ve never felt this fearful,” said one attendee, who has lived at her home near 20th and Capp streets for some 50 years and said that police have done little to discourage prostitutes from working on her block.
“The ladies out there are getting much more aggressive – isn’t prostitution [illegal] still?” the woman wanted to know.
While prostitutes and homeless campers are not new to the Mission, many of the neighbors alleged that their presence has increased notably in recent months and is conducive to criminal activity.
Mission Police Captain Daniel Perea and the Mission’s supervisor, David Campos, assured residents that every available resource was being used to ensure the community’s safety – still, Tuesday’s meeting ended with much frustration and few solutions.
“At every meeting, we are told the same things,” said David Hall, who co-owns the bar Shotwell’s, located at the corner of 20th and Shotwell streets.
Hall said that in the last three weeks, prostitution on his block has spiked “to the highest I’ve seen in the 10 years I’ve been here,” and that the surge has impacted his business negatively.
Others also described “a line of 20 to 40 prostitutes” who surface on “every night of the week” to work the poorly lit sections along Capp Street and Shotwell Street. The women attract customers that “triple daytime traffic” on those streets, one neighbor said.
Residents wanted to know why more arrests weren’t being made, and pointed to a lack of foot patrol officers assigned to comb residential corridors.
Perea said police were focusing on the clients of the prostitutes and are responding to upticks of “crime and violence” in the neighborhood with “organized operations and focused enforcement.” Earlier this month, Perea said that a DUI checkpoint was erected at South Van Ness and 20th streets in an effort to deter would-be Johns.
“These people should not have to be afraid in their own homes,” said Perea.
Other residents said that the increasing visibility of tent encampments in their neighborhood made them uncomfortable. “I walk down Folsom Street everyday to work, and everyday I see drug use,” said one Mission resident. “Why is that allowed to exist?”
Both Campos and Perea told residents that unless a crime was being committed, more policing would not solve issues such as homelessness. The root causes, they said, need to be properly addressed.
“You have to understand what’s happening citywide and why the Mission becomes basically the dumping place, ground zero,” said Campos. “You can’t just put people in jail, because they get out and get back onto the streets. You need to give them options and that’s what we are working on.”
The city’s efforts earlier this year to relocate its homeless population away from Super Bowl festivities and a sweep of a major encampment on Division Street in February placed some 100 homeless people in shelters and ushered dozens of others to other areas.
Earlier this year, Campos introduced legislation to open six more Navigation Centers, or full-service homeless shelters, citywide.
Campos turned to Perea as he explained that his office is not in charge of patrolling the neighborhood for criminal activity, but to ensure that the police department “has the resources it needs.”
“The first question I ask the captain every single time I talk to him is, ‘do you have enough resources?’” He said. “I’m open to passing whatever law is needed.”
But Perea said that inadequate resources aren’t the issue.
“I have a boss and if I need something I ask him for it and I get it,” he said.
To attendees who asked for more foot patrol officers, Perea said that officers must be paired up, and that expending those resources is indeed a challenge.
“We can’t just have one officer. We need two out together given what’s going on in the country right now,” he said, calling it a “safety issue.”
But Campos sided with the neighbors in calling for more beat officers in his district.
“I think it’s better to have [officers] walking a beat than in the car,” he said, adding that his office has backed Mission Police Station financially in support of foot patrols.
And that money is being put to use, said Perea. “We have foot beat officers out at 16th and Mission [streets],” he said. “A lot of that is over-time money that the supervisor is speaking about, and that is being used. But it goes fast.”
That didn’t appease the community members.
They asked for speed bumps to be installed on streets frequented by sex workers and for the prosecution of homeless campers who are visibly breaking the law.
“There are people who won’t go to [Jose Coronado Park] because there are so many bad people there,” said Dolores Reyes, owner of the restaurant San Jalisco, at 20th and South Van Ness. “These people are outside with music, bottles…I have seen the police go by and they don’t do anything.”
Others said they were ready to depart from the Mission.
“I’m ready to shut down my freaking bar,” said Hall, although Shotwell’s other owner did not corroborate this statement.
Another female attendee echoed his concerns. “I’m ready to sell my house,” she said.
The evening also offered a confrontation between District 9 supervisorial candidate Joshua Arce and Campos, whose seat Arce is vying to win.
“No disrespect to Supervisor Campos, but for the past eight years he and his staff have been a disaster for the Mission,” said Arce, who handed out his business cards and invited the attendees to further discuss their concerns with him. “We are meeting and planning for what we are going to do in January to change things up at City Hall,” he said.
But Campos fought back. “It’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to do it,” he said and called Arce “the mayor’s candidate.” “We have actually passed laws to force this administration to do something.”