For all the tension in the air at this month’s police community meeting, Mission Station Captain Thomas Harvey could agree with the room on one thing: Policing sure is hard. He welcomed suggestions from attendees regarding petty crimes plaguing the neighborhood, particularly graffiti and dirt bike caravans chopping through Dolores Park.
“They do not stop, they do not yield … which means it makes the enforcement part difficult,” he said. And, later: “You need, like, Spider-Man equipment to stop it.”
Captain Harvey was pleased to note that SFPD did impound a small vehicle that was a part of the dirt-bike caravan, though no arrest was made.
That was one of a small number of crimes mentioned at the top of the meeting’s crime update, which included three arrests made at the 16th and 24th St. BART plazas for illegal vending and, in one case, for harassment of a Department of Public Works employee.
Harvey failed to mention the Aug. 18 brazen shooting death of 18-year-old Damien González at the Mission Recreation Center.
Perhaps that was because the focus of today’s meeting was ostensibly on graffiti in the neighborhood, with nearly everyone believing there is more than ever.
To address the problem, Harvey introduced Officer Martin Ferreira, SFPD’s sole full-time graffiti investigator. Ferreira has a lonely job, and he says he’s doing it the best he can.
“I would love to have more resources, but these are the waters that we swim in. We’re all frustrated — I’m frustrated — to have to see the state of things,” Ferreira said to the room. He noted that the vast majority of graffiti in the Mission is from taggers, and unrelated to gang activity.
Ferreira cited a few taggers that his department has charged, whom he said were no longer tagging. Nevertheless, the attendees of Tuesday evening’s meeting think Ferreira is not, in fact, doing his best.
“Whatever you’re doing, and the examples that you’re providing, it’s not working,” said one Mission resident. “The permission granted for this behavior is the problem, and the neutering of the police station is why it persists.”
Harvey interjected. “Martin’s here to talk about graffiti, specifically,“ he said. “If there are other greater societal things you want to talk about, I’d be happy to do that with you after this meeting.”
Ferreira made a point to say that investigations into tags are possible, if not always followed up on. “What it takes to have a good case is good video, a willing victim, and a cost estimate” from a licensed contractor, he said.
Next, Harvey blazed through the the “Bi-Annual Presentation of Officer Conduct, Citizen Complaint Process, and Bias-Free Policing,” which advertised, among other things, published reports on SFPD use-of-force data, sworn force demographics, and the department’s Quarterly Activity & Data Report.
Things got a little out of hand once Harvey gave the floor to community members. Attendees often had to shout to be heard over a chorus of grievances. Nonetheless, the 25 or so in the crowd agreed: The SFPD should be doing more.
More of what, exactly? Everyone had their two cents.
“TikTok,” one attendee suggested. That’s how she said police can educate young people on the consequences of tagging. “I don’t like TikTok, but TikTok, YouTube. Our young people are into all the social media and they need to know the punishments of doing graffiti.”
“Are you going to high schools and talking to young people about this?” one man asked. “Do they even know it’s a crime?”
“Does anybody not know it’s a crime?” said one woman. She then asked the room to raise their hand if they knew graffiti was a crime. Everybody raised their hand.
It’s worth noting SFPD officers no longer work in schools, due to a 2020 agreement with the school district, though Ferreira and Harvey both they think it would help relations with youth.
Other concerns included loud gatherings late at night and public misbehavior.
Harvey cut the complaints off to end the meeting, which went 15 minutes over. As most of the room shuffled out, a handful stayed back.
“I know it’s not high on the priority list,” said one attendee, who complained of people drinking, playing loud music and urinating outside her apartment. But Harvey invited her, as he had invited others, to speak with him about it after the meeting. Once it ended, she was one of a small crowd of complainants who stayed to chat.