“For those of you that don’t know my name, I’m the guy with two last names,” said the new Mission Station captain in front of a small crowd at Bissap Baobab last Tuesday, displaying the comfort and rhythm of a stand-up comic.
The audience chuckled.
Those two “last names” are Gaetano Caltagirone. “It’s an old-school name from Sicily,” he explained to the audience of around 30 small-business owners and organizers of the annual Carnaval Parade.
The captain, who took over in October, told the crowd that he’s a native San Franciscan with four kids. He lives in the city, and his wife is a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital.
“We’re both people who like to take care of people,” he said.
His five-minute speech was sprinkled with jokes, and the community members in the audience seemed to like him: he is a San Francisco native, lives in the city, and is a family man with a sense of humor.
“His speech, to us, felt genuine,” said John Calloway, a musician who grew up in the Mission. “It’s wait and see, but the fact that he’s here says a lot.”
At the very least, the light-hearted mood of the evening seemed fueled by a sense of relief after eight months of Captain Bill Griffin who, at times, seemed allergic to the schmoozing required of a more community-friendly police captain.
“Since Captain Perea left and became a commander, there was an absence of really having that connection,” said community activist Roberto Hernandez.
But while the small group of merchants showed optimism that the new captain can change the way police operate in the Mission District, Caltagirone has never led a district station, and he was only promoted to the rank of captain in September. He is fresh as a leader — in, arguably, the most complicated police district in San Francisco.
“Mission is a very busy district, and geographically it’s a very large district,” Police Chief William Scott said in a recent interview with Mission Local.
Scott ultimately made the decision to yank Griffin from the post and replace him with Caltagirone, who, unlike his predecessor, wields more experience with foot patrols — and, clearly, the ability to win the hearts of community members.
“I love the captain,” said Marco Senghor, owner of Bissap Baobab. He’s “a very sweet man, a human being.”
Yet Caltagirone has stepped in at a time when the Mission District faces chronic prostitution, property crime, and homelessness — and which, in 2016, claimed by far the most calls for service of any district — more than 90,000.
Moreover, the Mission saw the most dramatic increase in car break-ins of any district at 182 percent, from 601 in the first seven months of last year to 1,693 of the same period this year.
“We’re tired of the crime, the homeless, and we’re tired of not feeling safe in the neighborhood,” one community member told the Captain at his first community meeting at the station in October.
But not only is Caltagirone tasked with wrangling the crime problem, he also leads a station whose roughly 160 officers are among the city’s most aggressive. This year, Mission Station officers have used the most force of any station, 14.1 percent more than Bayview officers, which claimed the second-highest amount of force used this year.
At a recent community meeting, Caltagirone expressed his intentions to bring back monthly meetings (which had been whittled down to every other month under Griffin), re-establish the station’s newsletter and form a Community Police Advisory Board. He also said he plans to double the number of homeless-outreach officers to four.
“There’s been a lot of unfair killings and unfair brutality” by police in the Mission, said Ingrid Melendez at Wednesday night’s welcoming of Caltagirone. “We want to be friendly with the police. We want to be a community that helps each other. And I hope he’s really gonna go for it and steer us the right way.”
The captain will be holding his monthly community meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at Mission Station.