City leaders told an audience of more than 100 community members Monday night that they would maintain a daily police presence in Dolores Park and devise more proactive measures to address the conditions that lead to an Aug. 3 shooting that injured three people.
One of those measures may include updating the footbridge connecting Dolores Park to Church Street, where the shooting occurred. Three people were injured in the incident, including one who sustained life-threatening injuries.
One of the victims, 69-year-old Jeff Kelton, addressed the panel of officials at the Dolores Park Church meeting, including Police Chief William Scott, Mission Station Captain William Griffin, District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Parks and Recreation Director Phil Ginsburg.
“The manpower you need to be in the park 24/7 is crazy — you just can’t do it,” Kelton said. He recommended more, intermittent police scheduling.
“There should be some leaking out into the surrounding streets of the park,” he added. “It’s not just Dolores Park — it’s the neighborhood, the whole system.”
Kelton, who walked with the cane, said that he was shot “through the leg” during the incident. He said he came to the meeting to thank the city officials and the community, as well as give suggestions.
The shooting was the third recent incidence of violence in the park, and officers believe that at least two of them — a mid-day stabbing and the shooting — are gang-related.
Chief Scott agreed that the shooting was gang-related, and that it could be connected to another victimless shooting that happened one month ago. He said the department doesn’t have any suspects in custody.
“[The shooting] was a huge, huge event for the city, and particularly Dolores Park,” Scott said. “When we get to the level of violence when someone is shot midday, it is cause for serious concern.”
The officials seemed determined to maintain the police patrols.
“We don’t want this to be an episodic event where something happens, we respond, and six months later it’s back to where it was,” Sheehy said.
He said that working to curb drug dealing, drunk driving and vandalism in and around the park was important to preventing another incident.
Captain Griffin said that there will be two officers present at the park starting at 11 a.m. every day, as well as motorcycle officers to patrol the 15-acre park. “At this point, I have no plans to change any of that … it seems to be working pretty well,” he said.
Ginsburg added that there had been a reduction in park theft, graffiti and gang activity since the daily police presence began. Yet he said violence, homelessness and encampments remain a challenge. “I’m not gonna lie about it,” he said. “But [the added police presence] gives us a little more time and space to work.”
He also noted that during the Dolores Park renovation, numerous “safe access points” were incorporated into the park’s design, but the bridge was not one of them. “There are not even pedestrian crosswalks into the bridge,” he said. “So we have not treated this as a safe access point into the park.”
“Maybe it should be on the table as the next step in environmental design,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Justine Cephus recommended that the park install “drug-free zone” signs, so that drug users — but especially drug dealers — could receive an enhanced penalty at the park. “The penalties are much higher for drug sales than for drug use,” she said.
Community members also gave recommendations.
Hans Kolbe, who three months ago started the DP Ambassador Initiative, which has volunteers greet Dolores Park visitors and collect feedback, recommended holding monthly meetings, instead of only after an dangerous incident.
“We need the follow-up,” he said. “This was interesting, it was a sensation … but we need to come back to this and decide on specific things.”
Nick Derenzi, 25, who works at a grocery store near the park, said that not enough groups were represented at the meeting — especially youth and people of color. He said that he worried daily police presence would make them more nervous.
“My fear is that SFPD has had so many problems in the past with communities of color,” he said
At the end of the meeting, Kelton, the shooting victim, was asked whether officials answered his questions and offered tangible solutions.
“It’s a start,” he said.