The Chronicle’s CW Nevius reported yesterday that Tenderloin Police Captain Joe Garrity is leaving for a new assignment. Garrity’s sudden departure surprised the Tenderloin community groups who have been working closely with him for months on a planned crackdown on drug dealing in the Leavenworth corridor. Garrity publicly committed to implement the crackdown on April 1 but it never happened, and he gave one excuse after another for his inaction. Garrity is the Tenderloin station’s third captain since October 2009, which means that a neighborhood suffering from too few police and unacceptable levels of public drug dealing will have its fourth captain in less than four years. Many groups provided funding for the major anti-violence initiative that Garrity failed to provide officers to implement, and now it is up to Chief Suhr to enforce the captain’s commitments. It’s also time for someone in the SFPD to be held accountable for the lack of adequate police response to public drug dealing in the Tenderloin.

Last week, Captain Joe Garrity told the Tenderloin’s most dynamic anti-violence coalition in years that he was again breaking his commitment for intensive enforcement against drug dealing on Leavenworth from Golden Gate to Ellis Street. The long-planned two month project was supposed to start on Apr. 1, but the police action did not happen. Garrity found one reason for delaying the start until April 15, and another for moving it back to April 22; at last week’s meeting he refused to explain why the project he committed to had still not begun, or to give any indication when it would.

Now Garrity is gone, having been promoted to commander. The move was made without any knowledge of the coalition members who contributed money and staff to a campaign that Garrity enthusiastically backed as critical to improve Tenderloin safety.

I wish Garrity all the best in his new position, but the SFPD leadership needs to step in and start giving the Tenderloin the police support it deserves. And it needs to announce to the volunteer “anchors” from the Tenderloin’s leading housing and community groups who have committed to reducing crime on a longterm basis along Leavenworth that the SFPD stands behind Garrity’s commitments.

Lack of SFPD Accountability

Four captains in less than four years is not the way to reduce Tenderloin crime. And someone at the SFPD needs to be held accountable when the police claim to be working in concert with community groups in tackling crime and then break their commitments.

When has anyone connected with the SFPD been held accountable for unacceptable levels of public drug dealing in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood with 4000 kids? Captain Gary Jimenez had the best results ever but was moved to a night shift in the Outer Sunset in November 2009 allegedly because former Chief Gason felt he wasn’t a “team player.”

Apparently, being a “team player” means keeping quiet about Tenderloin drug dealing. And that was something Jimenez would not do.

Garrity always reminded us that he had over twenty fewer officers than Jimenez, and it was hard to argue with this math. But Chief Greg Suhr has insisted to me that the Tenderloin has enough officers to get the job done, and that he was comfortable with the current (reduced) staffing.

Suhr’s promotion of Garrity must mean that he was impressed with the Captain’s Tenderloin performance, despite ongoing levels of public drug dealing that Tenderloin residents and community groups---as well as every other neighborhood in San Francisco--- finds unacceptable. Suhr either has extremely low expectations for what the police can accomplish in the Tenderloin or does not see the neighborhood as a priority; it will be up to residents and community groups to change his perspective.

DPW: A Counter-Example

To those who don’t understand the difference the police could make in the Tenderloin if they had the will to do so, consider the city’s Department of Public Works. This city agency gives the Tenderloin the level of services it deserves, and the results are visible.

If DPW is told about graffiti on a building, they are dealing with it no later than the next day and often right away. They are out spraying sidewalks, picking up trash and disposing of abandoned property. The Tenderloin looks better today than in decades for many reasons, but DPW has played a critical role.

Why does DPW hold the Tenderloin to the same level of cleanliness as other neighborhoods while the police tolerate public drug dealing that they stop elsewhere? That’s another question community groups and residents will be asking Chief Suhr in the days ahead.

Randy Shaw is Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which initiated the current Tenderloin anti-violence campaign.