Last month, Mission Local reported that some merchants on Mission and 24th streets had not noticed a difference in SFPD’s foot patrol presence and engagement since the department announced it would quadruple foot patrols in September.
Shortly after the article was published, the Mission Station hosted a meetup on 24th Street aimed at introducing merchants and community members to the officers.
So we caught up with the foot beat officers assigned to 24th Street — Officers Robert Clendenen and Paul Lujano — to find out who they are and how they like walking one of the neighborhood’s most interesting corridors.
Officer Robert Clendenen, 35
Officer Clendenen joined the department four years ago. The former paramedic started his field training in the Bayview, and later moved on to Central Station where he walked the Fisherman’s Wharf foot beat.
After spending several months at Park Station, Clendenen requested an assignment in the Mission.
“I’m one of those guys that got picked up a little later in my 30s,” he said when asked why chose to work in the Mission. “And I felt like I needed to get as much as experience as possible in the shortest amount of time.”
“I feel like this (the Mission) is a great place to grow and learn as a police officer,” he said.
Clendenen said he was not sure the community would embrace him at first, but he feels like it has.
“I can’t tell you how many times I walk into a shop and you see … the tension drop out of their shoulders,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to listen to what they’re telling me and effect change.”
But being a foot-beat officer isn’t always easy, he said. Often, his car is parked far away from where he’s patrolling on foot. If he needs to respond to an emergency, he’s not always the first to get there.
“I’m not going to be the fastest to respond to an officer in need a lot of times, because of the limitations of being on foot,” he said. “And that’s a tough pill to swallow, because we all want to go home at the end of the day — we all want to help each other.”
Clendenen did say, however, that being a foot-beat officer has its advantages.
“Being here on foot, I’m more embedded in the streets — I can smell things better, hear things better, and I can see things up close and personal,” he said.
Officer Paul Lujano, 31
Officer Lujano came to the department in 2014 after serving military tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He, too, trained in the Bayview and later moved to Tenderloin Station to finish his probationary training period. He was eventually assigned to the Mission.
“The smells of the streets are pretty awesome,” he said when asked what he liked most about working on 24th Street.
Lujano also said he enjoys the human interaction, and he believes people along the corridor appreciate him back. “They like our presence — they like us coming in and saying ‘hi’ to the folks,” he said. “You meet really interesting people.”
His presence, he said, is the most important part of his job as a beat officer. He also believes it’s making a difference. “I’ve seen quite a bit of difference,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me they don’t see the bad stuff as much.”
“Sometimes when you’re (driving) a patrol car, and you’re answering calls for service, you don’t get that immediate return from the community,” he added. “Whereas, on your foot beat, you’re there, you’re always in the community. You get that positive reinforcement of people who are appreciative of what you do.”
Lujano has noticed that the Mission Police District — which includes the Mission, Noe Valley and Castro neighborhoods — is a very diverse place, and calls for service can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.
“If you chop the Mission District up, you’ll have three or four different identifiable cultures and communities within the district itself, and that provides unique call volume,” he said.