For the first time in several years, the streets of San Francisco’s Ingleside police district — one of the city’s largest and most diverse — are being patrolled by beat cops. It’s a goal the district’s captain, Joseph McFadden, has been waiting a long time to achieve.
“We’ve been wanting beats since I got here,” said McFadden, who took over the district in August 2014. “We just didn’t have the bodies, the numbers.”
McFadden conducts his own “merchant walks” in several of the district’s commercial areas every Friday, and over the past three years he’s implemented foot patrols whenever he’s had the personnel, but none could be sustained.
This time, however, the order comes from the top, making it more likely that the patrols will last. Early last month, Chief of Police Bill Scott unveiled a plan to double the number of foot patrols in problem areas across the city, as part of what appears to be a strategy to underscore the importance of community policing.
At the end of last year, the Department of Justice published a report on the San Francisco Police Department, issuing 272 recommendations for improvement, many of them related to police/community relations. In response, Chief Scott created a community engagement division — headed by Commander David Lazar, formerly the captain of the Ingleside station — and put in motion a plan to increase foot beats across the city.
Lazar said that, in the 1980s, foot beats were prevalent throughout San Francisco, but as a stronger emphasis was placed on response time to 911 calls, many officers were taken off foot beats and reassigned to car patrols.
Chief Scott’s new plan strives to change that. In a press release issued Sept. 5, he explained that the department was being restructured to make officers available for foot beats, increasing patrols in areas where they already exist and creating them where they don’t, like the Ingleside district.
So far, McFadden has been able to assign officers to two beats: the area surrounding the intersection of Mission Street and Geneva Avenue, which has the highest concentration of calls for service in the district, and the commercial stretch of Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights, which experiences a lot of property crime.
Ideally, he said, there will be six foot patrols in the district, which covers 6.5 square miles — from Diamond Heights Boulevard to Bayshore Boulevard in one direction, and from Cesar Chavez Street to Daly City in the other.
The decision on where to assign the first two beat officers was determined by district-wide reports of crime and requests from the community.
“It goes by calls for service, primarily,” he said, but added that “it’s [also] about who screams the loudest.”
Break-ins and vandalism are problems in the Mission/Geneva area. A major transit hub with busy arterials and several bus lines intersecting, it also serves as a convenient meeting spot for gang members from both San Francisco and Daly City.
Because of the high crime rate, he assigned two veterans of the station, Officers Daniel Taft and Mike Elliston, to patrol the intersection.
Despite the statistics, many people who work in the area said they think the neighborhood is safe.
Among them is Alfonso Santiago, who manages the Geneva Snack Store. “To me, the area is nice,” he said, but added that since the foot patrol was implemented, he’s noticed a reduction in what McFadden described as “nuisance crime,” such as littering and jaywalking.
The officers, he said, make the intersection feel “more secure, safe.”
Others, however, see the officers’ presence in a different light. “I’m assuming the reason they’re here is because they’re building new condos, and they want to make it seem like a safer neighborhood,” said Joel Armjio. A large complex is being constructed a few doors down from Mike’s Discount Liquor, where Armjio works.
Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights is comparatively quieter, but McFadden said that car break-ins, as well as home burglaries, are a big problem there.
“Breaking into cars [has become] the easiest way to make money,” McFadden said, and Bernal Heights is an alluring target.
The residential streets surrounding the corridor are quiet and tree-filled, making it easy for criminals to work unseen. And the area is close to both the 280 and the 101, allowing for quick get-aways. “People can break in, then hop on the freeway,” he said.
Officer Kevin Endo, who works the Cortland beat with partner Officer Alfred Chan, said there’s another factor that makes the neighborhood appealing to home burglars: “A lot of wealthier folks live in this area, and people who do this kind of crime know that,” Chan said.
McFadden said that the residents and business owners in the Cortland area were particularly vocal about wanting beat officers. Many in the community seem pleased to now have them, and supportive of the idea of foot patrols in general.
Nadia, who declined to give her last name, has lived in Bernal Heights for three years.
“Neighborhood policing has many advantages. It’s nice to say ‘hi’ to them when you get your coffee,” she said. “It puts a face to the uniform, makes it more personal.”
Mike Hayes, manager of The Wild Side West bar, said that “every neighborhood should have” beat cops, because “shit happens everywhere.”
Next up, McFadden would like to establish patrols on Mission between Cesar Chavez and 30th Streets, and on Leland Avenue between Bayshore Boulevard and Delta Street. Doing so would require the department to assign him more officers.
“Everyone wants foot beats,” he said. “I’m competing with nine other stations. In my perfect world, I would go through the Hall of Justice and find 100 cops doing things they don’t need to be doing and put them on the street.”