20th and Capp streets
An armed robbery was reported at 20th and Capp streets, just minutes before a fatal hit and run at 16th and South Van Ness. Photo taken June, 2022 by Eleni Balakrishnan

In response to an outcry from residents, San Francisco’s Special Victims Unit and the Mission District’s police captain on Monday promised that enforcement is coming soon to Capp Street, a place known for sex workers. 

Mission Station Captain Gavin McEachern acknowledged during the virtual call Monday, with the Central Mission Neighbors organization and District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, that, for the most part, the police department has not enforced sex-work-related offenses over the past two years in the Mission District. 

“We do think there has been a hiatus of enforcement for a period of time, and we’re looking forward to changing that dynamic,” said McEachern. 

That dynamic on Capp Street near 20th Street has gotten particularly difficult to live with, neighbors said. 

Residents shared stories of violent fights, guests being propositioned by drivers cruising Capp Street, and hearing women begging to go home. The latter had people convinced that some sex workers were there against their will. 

After the meeting, one 36-year-old resident of 20th and Capp streets, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Mission Local that sex work had always been around, but had never really posed a problem over the eight years he’s lived there. 

In the past six months, however, the activity has grown dramatically: He said he sees as many as 20 sex workers on his block at a given time. Groups of men hanging out in cars at his corner have also recently appeared, and frequent, loud altercations are heard. 

The resident suggested that the traffic diversion on Mission Street, and Shotwell’s Slow Street status, has sent car traffic to the 20th and Capp Street intersection, and may have brought more sex workers there. 

Shotwell, which he said historically saw as much activity as Capp Street, is now quiet. 

Special Victims Unit Sergeant-Inspector Tony Flores said during the virtual meeting that he had just gotten approval for a citywide operation order to begin enforcement, with a focus on Capp Street. 

“So, let the games begin,” Flores said. 

Flores said he intends to focus on cutting the demand for sex work, and offering services to sex workers, acknowledging that the activity may just shift to a different location. Those soliciting sex workers may be sent to programs or classes as part of the terms of their citation. 

“I’m going to try to make it uncomfortable for those people that go out there,” Flores said. 

The resident who asked for anonymity said enforcement has been non-existent when it comes to sex work on his block. He was stunned to learn that, in the midst of all the activity happening one night, his neighbor, a Latina resident of 35 years, was pulled over and questioned for a broken tail light outside her own garage when she went out to get asthma medication. 

Some at the meeting suggested legalizing sex work and moving it to a non-residential area. 

“Why wouldn’t the city legalize prostitution, if they’re allowing it anyway?” asked one resident on Monday evening. “You’re going to be protecting the girls. You’re going to be able to get them services, and you’re going to be protecting the neighbors.” 

Legalization was not discussed by the officials present on Monday. But on Tuesday, Supervisor Hillary Ronen told Mission Local that managing the safety of residents on Capp Street, where sex workers have worked for years, and that of the sex workers is a “balancing act that we’re constantly trying to get right.” 

Increased police presence “will help in the short term, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the situation in the long term,” Ronen said in an interview, “which is why we need to ultimately legalize this industry and regulate it to keep people safe.” 

For now, however, Monday’s community meeting suggested that the SFPD will focus on enforcement — though its members complained that new laws make their work more difficult. Senate Bill 357 will decriminalize “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution” starting in January, 2023. In 2019, this has been the sex-work-related infraction most frequently enforced by police in the Mission, according to the SFPD’s incident data.  

McEachern expressed distaste for SB 357 and the ongoing discussion of banning pretextual traffic stops as hampering police efforts to combat sex work. He and his fellow law enforcement officials were quick to place blame on former District Attorney Chesa Boudin. 

Flores noted that there had been one “test run” enforcement effort last year on Capp Street, but said that “all those cases were dismissed [by the former DA]. We did exactly what needed to be done. Let’s call it what it is: New coach, new approach.” 

When asked why the former DA’s office dismissed the cases, Flores said: “They didn’t like them.” 

Jenkins, who said she walked around Capp Street on Saturday night to see the situation firsthand with one of the residents at Monday’s meeting, promised not to overlook the Mission District. She said on Monday that her ability to charge cases depends on the police department presenting cases to her office, but assured the residents listening that her administration’s close relationship and open communication with the police department would bring change as compared to her predecessor’s. 

But from the data available, it isn’t clear whether the previous DA can be blamed for low enforcement. Far fewer arrests and citations were brought by the SFPD in 2021 than in 2019 — under former DA Chesa Boudin and his predecessor George Gascon, respectively — but the rate of discharges in sex-work cases was about the same. 

For now, regardless of what the DA will do with the cases, Mission Station’s captain has committed to approving overtime and sending more officers to the Capp Street area when possible. 

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Follow Us

REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

Join the Conversation

21 Comments

Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Support your local prostitutes. They need to unionize them hoes their not bad people. The “Blade” as they call it, isn’t going anywhere. Lets hope yhe cops don’t start entrapping innocent people driving through the neighborhood with a decoy flagging them down to stop them and cite them.

    1. Ok, but not on a residential street. It’s unfair and unsafe for the residents who live here. There are many hard working families and kids and the increased traffic, noise, fights and garbage to clean up in the mornings (we have to clean up use condoms regularly) are not ok. If you want to legalize prostitution, move it to a commercial area away from where local folks live, people who are just trying to rest and feel safe in our homes. And I say that as someone who lives on Capp.

  2. Only real way to deal with this issue is to legalize prostitution to protect the women that work in this industry. Short term solutions haven’t been working.

  3. The cops are playing whack-a-mole. You bust in one place, it moves elsewhere. The johns don’t even care about the cops. I dated a cop from Mission Station for a little while. They dressed her up like a faux-ho as bait, and stationed an unmarked car at the end of the alley. It is a short term “game” (as the officer said in the article), but it is literally just catch and release fishing. This was 10 years ago and nothing has changed.

  4. I am sure this new promise of policing will be as effective as Mayor Breed’s last pronouncement of a state of emergency in Tenderloin that was not renewed. It’s all for gaining affluent whites’ votes with this corrupt SFPD and our bully of a mayor. It ain’t real reform or policing or care. If they were real about this, they would have campaigned to legalize sex-work like any progressive urban hub in the World: Amsterdam, Berlin, etc.

    Legalize SEX work so SEX-WORKERS can also pay rent and buy groceries from Trader Joe’s.

  5. It’s not so much the people loitering, but rather how everyone conducts themselves. I’ve ran into a pimp one night. And pretty much told him that I live there, and if he wants to run his business to leave me alone. He got the got the message. Basically everyone can work around each other, so long as there’s basic understanding. Dumb rude ones trying to flex unnecessarily/ or that makes trouble, ends up screwing up the balance, eventually to screw up their own business.
    Legalizing it is fine, but you gotta realize that women don’t go until prostitution without a f-up background.
    FYI. The elevated form of prostitution is temple courtesan (before patriarch debased feminine aspects and power.)

  6. Blame Boudin and we’re understaffed are standard explanations for our lazy police force

  7. I grew up in the Mission and spent from 1972-2010 living on 15th and Guerrero. There has been prostitution on Capp St since the 80s after the original stroll ( the 2100 block of Mission) was shut down.

  8. Agree! Legalizing prostitution will protech women, who make a living off of it! Instead of dealing with often violent pimps, and exploiting them further. Arresting those people who abuse the women and often time s exploit them violently will send a signal to this no good to society pimps!

  9. Very glad to see that the cops will crack down – but the drug traffic and assaults concern me a lot more. The Public Health Dept disclosed to the Examiner that it plans to open “safe consumption sites” “throughout the city.” I think that this is a very bad idea. The Tenderloin Center (which has allowed drug consumption since it opened) has attracted crime, drug dealing, and assaults since it opened. We don’t need any more of this in the Mission.
    I especially don’t like the way that the Mayor and supervisors are not announcing their plans officially. It shows a lot of contempt for the citizens.
    If the TL center is such a success, why is the mayor closing it down?

  10. Well, police have a stellar reputation when it comes to a) telling the truth; b) respectfully interacting with sex workers. What could possibly go wrong?

  11. The fact that Boudin and Gascon had the same discharge rate is supposed to clear Boudin? They are not dissimilar enough to make any such point.

  12. Thank you for this article. It’s a straight up meat market in the middle of the street between 19th and 20th on Capp at about 3am in the morning. Much worse than ever before, but it’s always been bad. Cops will enforce, prostitutes will move a few blocks for a few months, and they’ll all be back on Capp soon enough.

    FYI, when you buy a home near that area, in your CC&R’s they have to disclose the rampant prostitution that has been going on since the 70’s.

    1. “FYI, when you buy a home near that area, in your CC&R’s they have to disclose the rampant prostitution that has been going on since the 70’s.”

      Not really. CC&Rs really only apply to condo buildings. And it is entirely possible to own a building without ever being in the neighborhood and knowing about what goes on.

      I bought a building right at that location 25 years ago, and sold it ten years later. I made three times my money and a big part of that was because the prostitution there (which shocked me when I first realized it) had largely receded a decade later. Was not disclosed either on purchase or sale.

      Evidently it is back again. But why that location, given that it is residential and those who live there are always going to kick off about it?

      A few blocks east of there, are wider roads and an industrial landscape that is dead at nights. Why don’t the girls and johns go there? Why doesn’t the city allow that in such locations, a policy that has been successful in Europe?

      1. Rob, yes, mine was a condo so maybe that’s why it was disclosed. I think disclosures are up to the seller and some disclose more than others….

        The prostitution at this specific corner has been going on since the 70’s. There may be more industrial places to go with less neighbors and darker streets, but an established spot is hard to get rid of. I’m sure there are Johns that take a year or two off and then come back to these spots.

        Maybe the city can offer flood lights to any house/condo on those blocks to shine light on the street. Signs at the corners stating that license plates are being recorded. These are two non-violent/cheap things that can deter many worried about getting caught. It’s not rocket science…..

    2. Prostitution will continue as long as there are johns. And there will always be men looking for sex.

      1. Yuuup. And some of the customers are residents in the neighborhood. You see some of the same guys hanging out on the block drinking and talking to the sex workers every weekend.