In a townhall meeting held Wednesday at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center at 515 Cortland Ave., local police and city officials probed for information in the fatal stabbing of 33-year-old Giovanny Alvarez and attempted to assure Bernal Heights residents that while police have not identified a suspect in the stabbing, they were safe.
“We have to be limited in the information we let out to the public but we want you to know that you are safe and that we do have enough patrols up there,” said Ingleside Captain Joseph McFadden. “Since this incident, you are going to see double the police there.”
At 5:30 a.m. on May 25, a person taking a walk in Bernal Heights park discovered Alvarez suffering from multiple stab wounds, according to a police report of the incident. First responders later declared Alvarez, a father of four, dead at the scene.
Though most recently a resident of the Bayview, Alvarez reportedly grew up on Moultrie Street, just blocks away from the neighborhood center and from the park where his body was discovered. With an investigation pending, police have offered up few details about the homicide except that Alvarez was likely not a random target.
“In talking to the captain, [I found out] that the police do not believe that this was a random incident and have assured me that the Bernal community is safe,” said Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who called for the meeting and addressed some 40 attendees.
His murder instilled fear in the tight knit neighborhood and many, including the slain man’s family, expressed concerns for their safety and pleaded for witnesses to step forward.
“We are just here as family – we want justice for our brother and for the community,” said Catherine Alvarez, one of the victim’s sisters. “Even though they say its was a targeted attack, nobody is safe.”
“If he [the suspect] is out walking the streets of San Francisco then nobody is safe – anybody could be his target next,” said Alvarez, her voice thick with tears. “ If you are walking your dog or jogging, whatever it is – for me, we don’t feel safe either. This could happen to anybody, to any of your family members.”
The Alvarez family declined to further comment on the incident.
Ronen called Alvarez’ death and the discovery of his body in a park “that members of the community use for recreation” an “unimaginable tragedy.”
She said that her office would be providing “all the resources that the Alvarez family needs” as well as advocate for funding for local police to ensure that “our police captain has all resources he needs to keep our community safe.”
McFadden said that his officers have canvassed Bernal Hill and reviewed public camera footage, and requested that community members either review their private security cameras as well or turn their footage over to police.
“If you have video, review it. If you don’t have time to review it, give it to me and I’ll review it,” said McFadden.
But those efforts seemingly did little to chill the concerns of the neighbors, who pressed for answers and strategies.
“You say that the community is safe – I listen to the Alvarez family and they don’t agree with you,” said one attendee. “Being safe, those are just words. Convince me that we are safe.”
McFadden said that he planned to increase foot patrol beats on Bernal Hill.
“When something like this happens, it obviously steps up patrols,” he said, adding that he currently has two officers assigned to patrol all parks in the district. “When it steps up patrols it steps up not only our uniform presence, but our undercovers. When they are there, you have so much police presence, you’re safe.”
Another resident wanted to know if there had been a general increase in crime in the area. McFadden said that ironically, crime had decreased in the past three months.
“Everyone calls for everything and that’s what I want,” said McFadden. “So we actually have a decrease in calls up here and that’s why this is such a shock.”
But not everyone agreed with the captain’s assertion. Another neighbor who lives directly across from the crime scene said that he has seen increased in loitering late into the night, as well as graffiti and bottles strewn around the park.
McFadden explained that he was referring to a decrease in violent crimes but encouraged neighbors to report all suspicious activity. “The more you see, the more you report, the more presence you get,” he said.
On Monday, just days after Alvarez’ murder, the Mission district saw the homicide of a 45-year-old man near Garfield Square, at 26th Street and Treat Avenue. Ronen assured the community that the incidents were unrelated.
“There has been a decrease in violent crime and crime related to gang activity in the Mission District, so when we see a homicide, immediately we worry – does this mean an uptick in activity? Will there be retaliation?” she said, adding that she has consulted with the police captains of both districts who determined that the homicides were neither related nor random.
“We looked very carefully at this particular homicide and the other that happened this weekend to make an assessment whether or not it’s safe to go jogging on Bernal Hill in the morning and all of the captains of all of the different stations… have insured me that it is safe for my constituents,” she said.
Along with the ongoing police investigation, the Street Violence Intervention Initiative, a city program that aims to reduce violence through intervention at the street level through outreach workers, is working to provide services and intervention to try to stop retaliation, said the program’s director, Arturo Carrillo.
“When a homicide or shootings happens, there is a whole team that comes together called the Street Violence Response Team – to try to find out what happened and what we can do to help the victim and the victim’s family,” said Carrillo. “There’s conflict mediation that we do with different sets, because neighborhoods have problems with each other.”
McFadden encouraged neighbors to open channels of communication with each other and with police.
“The investigation is solved by the neighborhood –It takes a village right?” he said. “That is what this is.”