Terrorized by a string of shootings that claimed the life of one man and left two more injured in January, Bernal Dwellings residents implored local police at a public safety meeting on Thursday to ramp up prevention efforts and improve relations with the affordable housing community.
“It seems like every time you turn around [the police] leave, and people are walking through here and they are shooting at people [who are] walking to their house, walking to their car, they are shooting at anybody,” said a Bernal Dwellings resident who declined to give her name.
While small in size, the four-block development is prone to violence, and residents there said that conditions have worsened, causing many to remain indoors for fear of being targeted.
“It’s very scary to live here right now because at any moment somebody can come by and start shooting or if they see somebody outside they see them as a target,” said Gina Guitron, Bernal Dwellings’ property manager who is also a resident there.
A January 26 shooting that injured a 52-year-old man while standing in front of a house at 26th Street and Treat Avenue and a 43-year-old man who was targeted moments later while walking in the area prompted Mission Station Police Captain Daniel Perea to call for the community meeting in an effort to discuss neighborhood safety.
On January 1, 21-year-old Ernesto Rosales was shot at 26th and Shotwell streets, marking the city’s first homicide of the year.
“When things happen, we have to step up our presence, we have officers going through here day and night to make sure that this area remains safe,” said Perea.
In response to the recent violence, Perea said that Mission station officers have been assigned swing shifts to extend patrol hours, and support from other units has been requested to ensure greater coverage of the area.
But some residents who attended the meeting said that they did not feel safe at all and that police’s response is too little and often comes too late.
“I have a bullet hole in my window. I have a bullet hole in the side of my door. I’m scared to even go in my house our come out,” said the Bernal Dwellings resident who requested anonymity. “I would feel safer if the police would be here and they had somebody here every night, every day. I don’t see that at all.”
Guitron said she has noticed increased policing in the area following shootings, which is effective but falls off.
“The police responded within 15 seconds of that shooting last week,” she said, adding that the development has safety systems in place, but “how fast the system works to our advantage depends on each case.“
Despite short notice, some 40 people from within the development and the surrounding area filled a room inside of the Bernal Dwellings center where, alongside Perea, representatives of the Gang Task Force, the Mayor’s Street Violence Intervention program, the Mission District Supervisor’s office, and the neighborhood Assistant District Attorney stood to answer questions.
Inspector Scott Lau, of the Gang Task Force, said that the area has experienced an “ebb and flow” of violence for years and is a nexus of gang rivalry – he described the recent incidents as an “uptick” in that activity.
Jim Salinas, a former Police Commissioner who attended the meeting, also attributed the spate of violence to severe understaffing throughout the police department.
“We need more officers who act as deterrents, because home boys are not going to pop when there’s a black and white car rolling down the street,” he said.
The Gang Task Force, Salinas continued, has also been “diminished”– citing a community meeting held in October to address previous shootings in the area at which an investigator with the unit acknowledged that it had taken a hit in recent years, shrinking from 40 investigators to just 12.
While Perea did not disclose Mission Station’s staffing levels, he said “We have a lot, I wish we had more.”
The Mission, he said, is the busiest out of the city’s police districts, ranking highest in calls for service.
“Southern Station (South of Market) is right behind us, but they are probably anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 calls for service behind us. That’s a lot of calls for service,” he said.
With the violence bleeding into the surrounding neighborhood, Shotwell Street resident Craig Weber inquired if shots fired near his block last week and the violence inside of Bernal Dwellings were related, and whether victims were targeted at random.
“I don’t know whether this is gang related, whether … the person that was shot was a pedestrian who happened to be walking down the street,” he said.
While Perea told the neighbors that the majority of the incidents in the area involved the methodical targeting of victims, residents of the housing development disagreed.
“It’s hard to believe all of these are targeted – these victims are all people from different walks of life, they are not all connected,” said Guitron. “At some point it is random. I see people driving around here for hours, looking. They are not from here.”
Rose Marie Dennis, spokesperson the San Francisco Housing Authority, which manages some 43 housing developments in the city including Bernal Dwellings, said the agency was not notified of the shootings by police, but by Bernal Dwellings residents, and lacking information, could do little to reassure them of their safety.
‘It’s not very satisfying to the people who are nervous,” said Dennis. “It’s been very difficult, frankly, for the Housing Authority to communicate with Mission Station over the past year.”
Residents of the the development also wished for improved communication and more enforcement on part of the police.
“I would like to see SFPD again be more engaged with the community and not coming to harass the community, because they do,” said Gaynorann Siataga, a youth violence prevention worker who lives at Bernal Dwellings. “I would love them to have training on how to engage the community, speak to the youth, with programs. We had that established.”
Siataga said that she and other community workers initiated a model a few years ago that fostered collaboration and accountability among local agencies, including the police, in response to upticks of violence in the development by inviting them to provide their services at Garfield Park, located at the cusp of the development periodically – that program, however, has been cut.
“It was very effective,” said Siataga. “We had all the neighbors mingling and a lot of the violence went down so much here.”
While Mission police station currently hosts periodic events at Garfield Park meant to engage the community, a sense of fear and mistrust prevents many Bernal Dwellings residents from participating, said Siataga. In order to resolve the violence, that trust between community and police must be re-established, she said.
“[Police] think [residents] don’t want to come out because they don’t want to be involved but it’s not that. It’s like, how can you assure their safety from their house to the park?” She said. “We want to be safe.”