SFPD Redistricting Plan Fails the Tenderloin

by on December 15, 2014

SFPD Plan puts Westfield Center in Tenderloin station while excluding blocks in the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District

While San Franciscans spent the evening of December 10th lining up for sandbags and fighting over batteries in anticipation of stormageddon, a commissioned panel of experts presented the police department’s plan revised boundaries of district boundaries.

Most stations’ borders changed little or not at all. However, the redistricting proposes dramatic changes to the Tenderloin police district that make little sense for the Tenderloin neighborhood.

The proposal extends the currently north of Market district boundary down to Mission Street in the South of Market, encompassing the area between Market and Mission from South Van Ness to 3rd Street. It extends from 3rd Street and Mission north to Market Street and up Powell from Market to include Geary Street. The proposed western boundary expanded to both sides of Larkin Street between Geary and Market.

No one suspects a malicious plot to undermine the Tenderloin. However, the current proposal is likely to hurt rather than help the neighborhood’s crime reduction efforts.

First, the addition of the Westfield Center, an upscale mall at Powell and Market will dramatically increase and alter the force’s responsibilities. In 2011, the San Francisco Examiner received information from SFPD that police respond to the Center “up to three times a day and as many as five times on a Saturday to cite or arrest thieves who tried to flee with loot from the mall’s 170-plus stores.”

The team of statisticians and academics who designed the boundaries may have been unaware that Market Street Plaza will open on Market between 5th and 6th Streets, just across from the Westfield behemoth. This will leave the Tenderloin police district with two massive malls, and responsibility for their acquisitive shoplifters.

Before anyone springs forward to defend the Southern District, which currently includes Market Street and everything south, consider that the Tenderloin district would absorb most of the hottest spots for violence and drugs in the 6th Street corridor.

Moreover, the SOMA region (the 94105 area code, to be precise) has the highest median income in San Francisco; the 2013 census put it at $142,000. Common sense tells us that richer neighborhoods have fewer crime problems; SOMA’s housing construction boom tells us that the neighborhood is only getting richer.

While SOMA has traditionally had the greatest number of calls for service of any district, demographic trends will reduce them. Pawning off the Westfield Center is a quick fix to balance the numbers but it does not consider what’s on the horizon (or the additional mall strutting and mortaring its way to the Tenderloin police district).

Tenderloin officers are adept at coping with homelessness, mental illness, violence, and narcotics—often on foot. That’s where their energies are best spent. The neighborhood has also built a tight relationship with its captain, which has engendered community-oriented policing strategies that will inevitably suffer when the district’s aegis expands to include the very real—but very different—interests of downtown offices and main-stream retail on Market between 3rd and 5th streets.

Bottom line: the eastern boundary of the Tenderloin district should end at 5th Street.

Second, the Tenderloin district should extend to Polk Street, rather than stop at Larkin Street. This would align it with the boundary of the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District, and not for naught.

The region is Tenderloin for all intents and purposes. Narcotics activity and supportive housing dot the arteries of Golden Gate, Eddy, Ellis and O’Farrell from Larkin to Polk Street (see: Elk and Iroquois Hotels, Arnette Watson Apartments). As I have described in the past, residents have been adamant that moving the police boundary to Polk Street would disrupt the vice grip pernicious drug activity has on Larkin Street and the streets off of it.

Currently, dealers play cat and mouse with Tenderloin police east of Larkin, and Northern police on and beyond Larkin. They take advantage of the area’s low income residents by doing business on their sidewalks while stabbings and shootings are too common near children’s parks.

Extending the Tenderloin district to Polk Street does put the grassy square of Civic Center into the Tenderloin District. I don’t have access to the raw incident or calls-for-service numbers. Yet I would argue that this gain (with its protests, events, and homeless folks) is preferable to the non-stop petty crime in the Westfield Center.

First, Civic Center Plaza includes a much-anticipated children’s playground. Tenderloin station serves multiple children’s’ parks and has fought to revamp the recently re-opened Boedekker Park; the city can rest assured that such parks are a priority and a valuable asset to the Tenderloin. Second, individuals who frequent the grassy areas of Civic Center—homeless individuals, those using drugs, library-goers, seniors getting exercise, etc.—are often common to the Tenderloin.

Police officers in the Tenderloin tell me that they fight for assignments to the district because of its residents. The Tenderloin is simply better suited to address these issues; if the calls for service rise too much with this addition in contrast to the Westfield Center, the Chief should give the district more officers. Civic Center belongs in that camp, but Westfield does not.

Most of all, the last thing anyone wants is for the Tenderloin’s highly specialized police team to become glorified security guards for Abercrombie and Fitch.

A community meeting to discuss these changes will be held in the Tenderloin on January 28th, location TBD. SFPD will also hold community meetings to discuss the Bayview and Southern police districts.

Comments can be sent to Chief Greg Suhr at Gregory.Suhr@sfgov.org

Karin Drucker is an organizer with the Central City SRO Collaborative


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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