Turk St. Gets an SFPD, DPW Wash Down: Can They Keep it Up?

by Karin Drucker on October 10, 2013

In the past few weeks, public safety efforts in the Tenderloin have amped up with noticeable results. Now, SFPD now has to figure out how to keep it up.

Merely thinking about the unit block of Turk Street has been known to give SFPD officers migraines. Its violence clashes wildly with the posh Westfield Shopping Center that is less than a football field away. Dealers do a brisk business at virtually any time of day, yet the people on the block are primarily buyers, often mentally ill, and frequently physically ill. Wheel chair-bound individuals smoking crack and trailing oxygen machines are too common.

Lieutenant Carl Fabbri of Tenderloin Police Station was acting as Captain in September and oversaw the public safety efforts on the unit block of Turk. In the station’s monthly newsletter, he wrote:

Our strategy this week was simple yet effective and didn’t overly drain police resources. Tenderloin Station coordinated with DPW [Department of Public Works] to wash down the block and sweep all the trash away. About 30 minutes before DPW was scheduled to arrive, about three or four uniformed SFPD officers pulled up to the block and got out on foot. The drug dealers naturally didn’t want to be around our officers (bad for business) and left. City services were offered to those left behind.

Partnering with other city agencies such as DPW is a strategy that maximizes the effectiveness of both agencies and saves money—a power sprayer is as good a deterrent as a person in uniform.

The bottom line is that public safety requires partnership and accountability as well as attention to the complicating factors. For instance, DPW and their aggressive street spraying are crucial. However, power spraying strips paint off the curb extremely quickly—a yellow zone goes to beige and gray in a matter of weeks. That is a problem for SF Municipal Transit Authority parking enforcement, which also plays a vital role in preventing illegal parking that shields drug dealing from the street.

In addition, merchants on the lower block of Turk need to step up in a big way. Anyone who ventures into one of the three stores on the block could walk out with a rock of crack cocaine just as easily as a Mars Bar.

Lt. Fabbri described the composition of the block as rife with familiar faces. “The dealers typically were already on probation for dealing drugs, had stay away orders from the courts, or were out on bail for other sales cases in the Tenderloin.” However the block also boasts three SRO hotels. Their residents—many of whom are recovering addicts and alcoholics—live in 10’ by 10’ rooms. They often socialize on the sidewalk. I for one do not want individuals to be punished for that. The unit block of Turk calls for a creative solution that balances the need to maintain safety for Tenderloin residents with the risk of criminalizing individuals who need help.

SFPD usually seems to be cognizant of that dilemma. I hear often from tenants and workers in the Tenderloin about kind, responsive, and compassionate officers. It is especially sad, then, when I hear of officers who harass, harangue, and bully. SFPD needs to keep a close eye on its beat officers and help to educate residents about SFPD expectations of their officers. If residents know that SFPD wants to hear about the officers who behave badly, they will be more willing and motivated to report the actions of out-of-line officers.

SFPD also needs help from homeless outreach services. The two homeless outreach SFPD officers in the Tenderloin are legendary and popular among almost every resident I meet, but two people can only do so much. As Beyond Chron pointed out this week, San Francisco needs to fund homeless/mental health outreach in a big way. The Central Business Districts are a help in this, but the North of Market Business District does not provide the same type of outreach that the Civic Center and others do. This should change.

Still, Lt. Fabbri is optimistic about changing the block. He wrote, “This week’s operation to clean up the block has left some of those people responsible for the conditions wondering if the party’s over.” Them’s fighting words. We will see if SFPD can keep it up.

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