Back in 2000, when I had just started working for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Chris Daly was a 28-year-old tenants’ rights activist running for Supervisor. While addressing a group of tenants at the Jefferson Hotel, I remember him suggesting that the cops should get “out of their cars and start patrolling the streets.” It sounded like a great idea to me. Anyone who spends time in the Tenderloin knows that it’s what the neighborhood needs. As rampant drug activity occurs on the sidewalk, police officers zoom by in their squad cars on fast-moving, one-way streets. Six years later, after a long struggle, it might actually happen. Supervisors Daly, Mirkarimi, Maxwell, Ammiano, and Sandoval have proposed legislation that will direct the police department to conduct a one-year pilot program of foot patrols in four crime-ridden neighborhoods: the Tenderloin, South-of-Market, the Western Addition and Bayview. Yesterday, the Board of Supervisors approved the legislation on the first reading by an 8-3 vote -- after a group of Tenderloin residents showed up at City Hall to put a human face on this dire problem.
“I live in Crescent Manor on Turk Street,” said Teresa Armstrong, “and most of my neighbors are seniors or disabled. Last month, a Methadone Clinic opened next door – and we’ve had a major problem with drug activity on the side streets.” The seniors in her building are afraid to go out during the daytime – not even (ironically) to attend a Safety Summit because it’s two blocks away. “If nothing else,” said Armstrong, “having police foot patrols would keep the [dealers] moving rather than just standing in front of our sidewalk. I have nothing against homeless people hanging around there if they’re not doing anything, but if people are dealing drugs, that’s a problem.”
Yesterday morning, a group of eleven residents from the Tenderloin and 3 organizers from La Voz Latina and the Central City SRO Collaborative went to City Hall to lobby the Board of Supervisors for foot patrols. Most of them had never lobbied an elected official, and quite a few were concerned mothers who had taken the day off from work. “We want more security in the streets because we pass through them with our children,” said Martha, who spoke in Spanish. “There are people using drugs, going to the bathroom in the streets, and it is impossible to pass because of the bad odor and because the people insult us. This makes me very afraid.”
The residents visited each Supervisor’s Office and presented the results of a survey conducted by La Voz Latina in both English and Spanish that polled families with children in the Tenderloin. More than half of the respondents in the survey had said that they either felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe” during the daytime, and most replied that they see “drug dealing,” “people doing drugs,” and “people using the sidewalk as a toilet” occur near their homes on a daily basis. A majority also said that daily disturbances in the neighborhood include “violence/assault” and “people yelling at each other across the street.” Univision, the Spanish-language TV station, accompanied the group with a camera crew.
The proposed legislation will require the Police Department in these neighborhoods to have two daily shifts of police foot patrols, with the discretion to expand the program if feasible. Police chiefs of various precincts will be required to meet on a frequent basis to discuss the program and work on how to improve it, as well as to provide the Board of Supervisors with regular updates. Due to concerns from the Police Department about staffing shortages and emergency responses, the legislation would not go into effect until January 1, 2007.
The Supervisors and aides who met with the residents were generally supportive. Chris Daly’s chief of staff, John Avalos, told the group in Spanish that “foot patrols are a great step towards making our community safe.” He also thanked the residents for coming to City Hall, telling them that “it’s your participation in our government that make things happen.” Sophie Maxwell was likewise gracious, and thanked the group for making the rounds at City Hall. “Your work is so critical and important,” she said.
While supporting the legislation, Supervisor Tom Ammiano also told the group that getting the Police to initiate this pilot program will only be the “first step” in making foot patrols a reality. “The cops were resistant at first, but we just kept pushing,” he said. “Now we have to make sure that it happens the way the community wants it to.”
Supervisor Fiona Ma, who represents the Sunset, told the residents that she supported the legislation, and mentioned that the police have foot patrols in her district. This raised a contentious point at the Board later on that day when the matter came up to a vote. Jake McGoldrick, who represents the Richmond, and Michela Alioto-Pier, who represents the Marina, expressed concern that the legislation did not target their neighborhoods. “I don’t want the resources diverted from Chestnut Street,” said Alioto-Pier.
But Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi replied that he had no objection to “city-wide” foot patrols. However, violent crime has been so dire in the legislation’s targeted neighborhoods, and these communities had been clamoring for it for so long, that he asked his colleagues to support it. If Supervisors from other districts wished to have police foot patrols in their neighborhood, he said, such legislation could be considered in the future. McGoldrick then agreed to vote “yes” on the legislation – but Alioto-Pier still voted “no.”
Sean Elsbernd was the only Supervisor to speak out against the concept of foot patrols. “I don’t agree with the fundamental principle,” he said, “that the Board of Supervisors is telling a paramilitary organization on how to deploy its troops.” But if that’s the case, why do we have a Police Commission? Shouldn’t law enforcement officials be held accountable to our elected officials – and ultimately the community? Supervisor Aaron Peskin also voted against the legislation, but did not comment on why.
After the Board votes on the second reading next week, the legislation will go to Mayor Newsom for his signature. As a Mayor who prides on having the City use “best practices” to guide public policy, Newsom should be willing to support Foot Patrols. “Police foot patrols are a best practices,” said Ross Mirkarimi. “It’s been tried in Manhattan, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta. And it has worked very effectively.”
For the Tenderloin, police foot patrols would be a huge victory after a long, long struggle.