Mirkarimi, Suhr Reach Deal to Increase Tenderloin Policing

by on July 7, 2014

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Starting July 19, the Tenderloin will have more police on the streets and it won’t cost the city a dime. How? San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi have agreed to a six-month pilot for Sheriff’s deputies to provide transportation and to oversee booking for arrested individuals brought to jail or the hospital. This will increase Tenderloin policing in the neighborhood by as much as 20%, as officers are on the street rather than engaged in the booking process.

Credit is due to Sheriff Mirkarimi for providing this service—known as “Station Transfer Units” — to Chief Greg Suhr for negotiating the deal, and to Tenderloin residents for pushing the issue forward. A number of Police Commissioners, including newly appointed Victor Huang, also gave strong support for the police reaching an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department.

Station Transfer Units: A Smart Strategy

In many cases, two-person teams of SFPD officers spend two to four hours on each arrest. Station Transfer Units from the Sheriff’s office may seem like a minor change but will significantly increase the effective police presence in the Tenderloin and Mission districts, the two neighborhoods included in the pilot.

Years ago, Sheriff’s deputies handled the transportation and booking for each person arrested throughout the city. Sheriff Mirkarimi has been a vocal supporter of bringing Station Transfer Units back since his time as a City Supervisor. He has continued to support the policy change even when it taps his department’s coffers.

The Sheriff even agreed to have his deputies stay with individuals if, after they arrive at the Hall of Justice, jail officials determine that they need a trip to the hospital. “Hospital stays” causes a significant drain on police resources particularly for Tenderloin station, which has a relatively small number of officers and a population that often needs medical attention.

Residents of Tenderloin SRO hotels were instrumental in making this pilot a reality. Tenderloin resident and organizer with the Central City SRO Collaborative Bryan Johnson said, “I’m happy about the change. We fought hard for it and hopefully it will help the neighborhood go in a more positive direction. I want the police to do a better job knowing the people in the area.” Resident David Elliot Lewis said that he is “grateful that my community, the Tenderloin, a neighborhood with many safety issues, will be safer as a result of the faster redeployment of officers back to the street after an arrest.”

Alongside local businesses such as the soon-to-open theater and restaurant PianoFight as well as performing arts organization CounterPulse, tenants and the Central City SRO Collaborative lobbied various city officials to build support for this proposal. And tenants will reap the benefits.

As a previous article stated, the newsletter out of Tenderloin police station reported 93 arrests in April of 2014. (It actually had many more but arrests by special officers aren’t counted). Each arrest eats three to four hours of officers’ time, and two officers are involved with each case. Assuming each arrest takes a minimum of three hours, the station’s officers spent at least 279 hours (93 x 3) on arrests each month.

The 93 arrests resulted in Tenderloin officers spending 558 hours a month sitting at the jail, rather than the Tenderloin. Multiply by the 12 months of the year, and shifting to a new booking policy would add roughly 6,696 police hours to the Tenderloin for two officers alone. Deputies providing coverage for “hospital stays” will add additional but unknown time savings.

What the Tenderloin needs, and which Captain Jason Cherniss recognizes, is more community policing. Beat officers need to be able to build relationships with store owners, residents, building managers, children, schools, and everyone on the street. Residents hope that the officers will use their new found time to do just that. Not only does it help prevent crime, maintaining positive relationships will help police to solve cases and help the neighborhood heal the fear, anger, and anxiety that violence and other dangerous behavior engenders.

Tenderloin residents have pushed for an additional police presence for decades. The neighborhood still has far few officers than it had at the start of 2010, even though proactive, compassionate, and intelligent policing in the community has consistently brought results. For example, a beefed up police presence on once notorious lower Turk—where violence is eight times higher than the rest of the Tenderloin—has recently made a significant difference.

That’s why the neighborhood needs officers on the streets walking, talking, and generally visible, not sitting in 850 Bryant. And it explains why Tenderloin activists never stopped pushing for a new booking strategy to get more officers on the streets (the mayor funded additional police for the Tenderloin in the Fiscal 15 budget, but they are not likely to arrive before October).

This policy is a coup for other neighborhoods as well. Resources are scarce and district captains have been strapped for officers for several years. By optimizing officers’ time on the clock, Sheriff Mirkarimi relieves some of the need for the Tenderloin and Mission districts to request more officers and frees up supply for other districts.

Once the benefits of Station Transfer Units becomes clear, Tenderloin residents will be asking the Mayor and Board of Supervisors to fund the Sheriff’s Department beyond the free six-month pilot program. It’s an investment in smart policing that benefits the neighborhood and the city, and particularly Tenderloin residents who have long sought safer streets.

Karin Drucker is an organizer with the Central City SRO Collaborative (CCSRO)

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Karin Drucker

Karin Drucker is an organizer for the Central City SRO Collaborative. She writes regularly on issues affecting the Tenderloin and SRO tenants, as well as on criminal justice issues.

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Filed under: Mid-Market / Tenderloin, San Francisco News