In his first public meeting as the head of Mission Station, Acting Police Captain Robert Yick discovered at Tuesday’s community meeting that prostitution is back on Capp and Shotwell streets and so were the residents who last fall managed to get a brief reprieve from the traffic, shootings and noise happening outside their windows.

“Whatever he did, it worked,” said the neighbor, referring to former Captain Daniel Perea’s operation to ramp up police efforts.  The crackdown, the neighbor said, “eradicated the problem” for a couple of months.

But the peace didn’t last long – the man said that a drive-by shooting took place in front of his apartment the night prior to the meeting.

“We are basically at the same state where we were – with shootings, large groups of girls being very loud fighting over territory, the Johns there in force in the wee hours, with traffic jams on this small side street,” he said.

The meeting was a wake-up call for Yick who had only been on the job two days and previously was in the department’s Internal Affairs Division. Captain Perea was promoted in February to commander. Although Yick was introduced as the acting captain, he said later that would treat the post as a “permanent job.”

In the fall, Perea responded to complaints about Shotwell and Capp streets by focusing police operations on hot spot prostitution areas and deterring would-be Johns with DUI checkpoints, vehicle theft abatement operations and an overall increased police presence.

On Tuesday, Yick seemed intent on getting neighbors to collect information and to call and e-mail police details of what they witnessed at night – suspicious cars, people and events.  

For their part, the neighbors were respectful, but also somewhat confused. They wanted to know if Yick planned on implementing the same tactics as Perea to quell prostitution in the area.

“Whatever [Perea] had in place, I want to continue with,” said Yick.

But the acting captain described the the shooting on Shotwell as an isolated incident and added that his department is actively collecting information and collaborating with other agencies on “cases like this.”

“I want to approach this intelligently– we don’t want to stop the wrong people,” said Yick, adding that police must have a “legal reason” to deter people from a certain area. “We don’t want residents who actually live in the area to feel that their rights are being infringed upon.”

But the neighbors, seemingly unsatisfied with the response, pressed on.

Photo by Lydia Chávez

“The neighbors are exhausted,” said one woman who lives near 24th and Shotwell streets. “They call, and they call. They have bullets coming through the windows where their children sleep. There are people having sex on their doorstops.”

The woman inquired about what neighbors could do to support police in their efforts to “double down” on prostitution. Some neighbors wondered if installing floodlights on their homes would deter prostitution and crime, others inquired about camera surveillance in the area.

But because video footage isn’t always immediately retrievable, Yick said the most effective tool to solving crime is neighbors calling in or e-mailing with specific details of incidents occurring on their doorsteps.

“Be our eyes and ears – please call the station,” said Yick, encouraging neighbors to report suspicious activity.

But residents, many of whom have attended the meetings at Mission Station in past months, were not convinced that their concerns were being addressed.

One Shotwell Street resident procured a list of repeated questions compiled from previous meetings that included inquiries about staffing levels at Mission Station, and asked for more transparency on crime statistics in the neighborhood.

A list of questions submitted by a frustrated member of the community. Acting captain Yick promised to respond. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Others said that they place calls for service almost daily, but often to no avail. They asked for a more visible police presence in the form of foot patrols and more police cars scouring the area to ensure their safety.

“We call the non-emergency number – I think all my neighbors have it on speed dial,” said a 50-year resident of Capp Street. “If the cars drive more regularly through Shotwell [at night], the Johns don’t come as much and it calms down the system.”

With the highest number of service calls of all the precincts, Mission Station is stretched for manpower – some 164 officers are currently assigned to the station, said Yick.  

Sergeant Robert Kaprosch, who worked under Perea and was present at the meeting, said that officers were pulled from other precincts to bolster Mission Station’s efforts during last fall’s prostitution sting.

Crime associated with a swell of homeless tent encampments was also a point of contention at Tuesday’s meeting – the issue drew residents from the Castro who said their neighborhood, similar to the Mission, has seen an increase.  They testified that repeated calls for service have yielded little response from police.

Randy Quezada, a spokesperson for the Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which is tasked with clearing encampments and connecting their residents to shelters and services, assured neighbors that his department is working with police to address large-scale sidewalk tent clusters as well as preventing re-encampment in areas that have been cleared.

Yick said that through city programs such as Homeward Bound, some 2,500-3,000 individuals are reunited with their relatives each year – but because of the caliber of homeless services provided by the city, many end up returning.

The acting captain promised to assign more officers to drive through prostitution hot spots and two officers dedicated to monitor re-encampment resolution. Yick said that a new liaison officer had recently been assigned to the department’s field operations bureau, tasked solely with monitoring encampments.

Still, many neighbors left the meeting without a clear sense of resolution.  

“We didn’t get the solutions we were looking for tonight,” said one attendee. “But we will keep coming until we do.”