Mission Station is upping its homeless outreach and undercover operations, said Captain Gaetano Caltagirone at a community meeting Tuesday at the station.   

Caltagirone stepped in as head of the station two months ago with promises of better community relations and more “old-fashioned” policing, including foot patrols and undercover drug busts.

He also seems to be taking a more participatory approach with community members, as he and his staff gave tips on how to ward off property theft during the holidays.

Caltagirone said he now has eight officers working four days a week who are dedicated to homeless outreach, including two dedicated to working midnight and swing shifts. He said that these officers are working to assist homeless residents and find them shelter.

“Remember, homelessness is not a crime,” he said, echoing SFPD’s overall effort to take a more compassionate, service-oriented approach with the city’s homeless population.

He explained that he has a sergeant now dedicated to responding to emails from residents worried about encampments near their homes. “He answers to every encampment and assists in cleaning them, and takes before and after pictures,” Caltagirone said.

Separately, the captain said he’s been directing “buy-bust” operations three to four times a week in known narcotic dealing spots. “It’s going back to old-days police work,” he said.

The captain explained that during a buy-bust operation, officers dress up as someone wanting to buy narcotics, approach the drug dealers and then arrest them in the act.

“We go to the dealers because dealers are what the problem is,” he said. “We hit a few hot spots and it’s been incredible … all of a sudden, the dealers disappear.”

“Undercover work is a great essential to doing police work in any district,” he added.

Car Break-ins and Package Theft

Lt. Chris Canning, a member of the station’s investigative unit, jumped in and spoke to community members about car break-ins and package theft.

“It’s not a mystery that there are a lot of property crimes that have been going around citywide, particularly here in the Mission District,” he said.

With regard to car theft, Canning recommended that folks secure valuables in their trunks several blocks away from where they end up parking – so not to give themselves away to would-be thieves. “In a lot of reports I read, people are trying to secure their belongings in a trunk or under a seat, but they’re doing it in the areas they leave their cars in,” he said.

In terms of package theft, Canning recommended that, with the influx of packages arriving from Amazon, residents only let people they know into their apartment buildings and, if they don’t know the person, “kindly ask them to call their friend, who can buzz them in.”

He said that, recently, he’s noticed that package thieves are dressing up “nicely and professionally” to look inconspicuous. “They’re the ones we’re finding are stealing all of these packages and walking out,” he said.

Canning also recommended that residents move their neighbors’ packages out of plain sight from the front entrance of the building, or just bring the package to their neighbor.

“In no way am I suggesting that [residents] are responsible for these crimes — they are victims — and we’ll investigate and follow all of the evidence we can,” he said.  

“What are you doing in terms of enforcement?” asked Craig Weber, who lives on Shotwell Street.

When a theft is reported and police have information to follow up on — such as a specific place and time, as well as video or a photo — Canning will assign the case to an investigator, he said. And that investigator will distribute the photo or video to “all the police officers in San Francisco.”

If an officer recognizes the person or arrests them for a separate crime, Canning continued, “they can link that individual to the photograph.”

He also said investigators “identify patterns” in specific locations, such as city blocks and periods of time. “While that might not resolve the individual who stole the package last week,” he said, the station can deploy undercover units to blocks with a high volume of thefts.

“We can use their skills to identify who these package thieves may be,” he said.  

After introducing himself, Vietnam Nguyen, a new assistant district attorney assigned to the station, explained his office is now employing so-called “smart data prosecution.”

That, he explained, means “pooling” police report data and calls-for-service information to identify suspects who commit the most offenses in the neighborhood as well as crime hot spots.   

“We spend our limited resources in attacking those suspects,” he said.