Gateway Residents, SFPD Discuss Safety at Community Watch Meeting

More than 30 Gateway residents showed up for a community watch meeting in a meeting room off of the administrative offices at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, to discuss how to contribute to building a safer community. It was organized by the Golden Gateway Tenants Association.

Mason Lee of San Francisco SAFE facilitated the meeting, in which he reiterated that a community watch has nothing to do with patrols. Instead, he said, “It’s all about creating that safety culture.”

And, he added, “Besides problem-solving, we want you to have fun as well.”

Lee urged people to be friendly with their neighbors and hold socials (the GGTA does hold a social for residents on the first Tuesday of each month at The Holding Company), and to look out for anything amiss.

He told residents to not let anyone “tailgate” into buildings, either on foot or into the garage by car, in order to maintain security.

Also, SFPD Central Station Capt. David Lazar spoke to the group about ways to be proactive in preventing crime, and he listened to ideas and concerns from residents.

“To see all of you is very inspiring,” he said. “It looks like you are recruiting more folks….  I’m really impressed there’s a crowd this big. You have to keep this up.”

He added later, “I think we invite crime, we invite criminal behavior, when they know we’re not organized.”

Capt. Lazar said neighbors should watch for suspicious activity, look out for each other and employ preventative measures, such as cameras and alarm systems.

Residents mentioned the Gateway doesn’t have cameras in the hallways or elevators, and Capt. Lazar urged them to talk to management about installing more. (Gateway management was invited to attend the meeting, but no one was present.)

“We make cases off of the video cameras,” he said.

He related the case of a man who entered a restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf with one backpack and left with two. They emailed the photo to 2,000 officers, he said, and shortly, three of them replied, identified the man and arrested him.

Capt. Lazar also discussed two of the big issues facing the community around the Gateway: homelessness and thefts.

Because the police department is on “the front lines of city government,” he said, they usually get the calls about the homeless, who tend to be mentally ill and/or substance abusers.

He said officers try to connect the homeless with services, outreach teams or the Homeward Bound program, which issues a one-day bus ticket to a person who has a friend or relative elsewhere who promises to care for him or her. Since 2005, he said, the SFPD has helped 8,400 people connect with loved ones.

Even though the city helps large numbers of homeless, more arrive in their place. The city’s homeless population has remained relatively steady at about 6,000, Capt. Lazar said, adding, “We have a new influx. Officers are saying I used to know these people, and now I don’t.”

And he added, for the first time in his career, he is seeing the psychiatric ward at San Francisco General Hospital on “red alert” by 9 a.m., meaning it’s full and has to divert people.

He also said the homeless have constitutional rights, and that the police are sensitive to that. They can enforce the “sit/lie” law that prohibits such actions, but “if they’re not sitting and lying and they’re just walking, we normally won’t do anything,” Capt. Lazar said, unless they are breaking other laws.

Still, he urged people to call the non-emergency line (311 or 415-555-0123) or to call or email Central Station if they have concerns.

The second issue Capt. Lazar addressed was theft.

“This district, thankfully, is not a big violent crime district,” he said. “Knock on wood, not a lot of shootings, things like that.” In fact, there have been no homicides in Central in all of 2014.

But auto burglaries and thefts are up, and most of those are fully preventable, he said. People leave windows or doors are unlocked, or a person is buzzed into a building.

Or, someone is working in an office or at a coffee shop, goes to the restroom and returns to find a laptop or purse is gone. If people kept their things with them at all times, those crimes wouldn’t happen.

Auto break-ins are another big problem, because they are on the rise and it saps much of the officers’ time and resources. These, too, are fully preventable if people wouldn’t leave items in their vehicles.

Capt. Lazar said by the end of August, there had been about 1,600 auto burglaries in Central, up from 1,200 that same time in 2013. He said thieves buy a tool called Rescue Me for $5 on Amazon that shatters window; it’s sold in case of emergency if a car is submerged in water.

He said he’d just seen a report that day of someone who left $3,000 in a bag taken from the back seat of a car. The SFPD is planning to work with hotels and rental car agencies to remind tourists not to leave anything inside a vehicle, not even in the trunk, and told Gateway residents to do the same.

Residents had feedback for Capt. Lazar as well. One person mentioned she never sees officers in the area, and others agreed more patrols would be welcome.

Another said it’s difficult to get to know neighbors in the Gateway because there are so many corporate rentals and Airbnb units (incidentally, the Gateway management does not allow sublets or Airbnb rentals, and those who do so are in violation of the lease agreement).

A couple of people suggested adding sensor lights and alarms on plaza-level apartments. The group was told SAFE can do an assessment and assist with that.

Another person complained about lack of security on the building roofs, which he said are used as “playgrounds.” Capt. Lazar said increasing security is the answer, but someone said, “We used to have a lot more sec here but they [Gateway management] didn’t want to pay for it.”

Someone asked about NERT training, and Lee said that will be addressed at the next meeting, which is yet to be scheduled. GGTA board member Bob Demchick, who spearheaded the community watch, is stepping down and Sue Rokaw will be the new point person. The email address remains the same:

Other issues raised at the meeting were the need for lighting in Sue Bierman Park, the need for a business improvement district (BID) in the area, and pedestrian safety.

“If I left here and didn’t talk about pedestrian safety,” said Capt. Lazar, “they should garnish my wages.”

One person said a cyclist nearly hit a woman with a baby in a stroller in front of Safeway. Others agreed that bicyclists and skateboarders are a problem.

“We want pedestrians and bicyclists and motorists to follow the rules of the road,” Capt. Lazar said, adding that the law prohibits cyclists over the age of 13 on the sidewalk. “If you see a grownup on a bike on the sidewalk it’s off limits,” he said. “Riding a skateboard anywhere but a designated skateboard park is against the law.”

However, riding a bike on the Embarcadero, which is Port property, is allowed.

Capt. Lazar urged pedestrians to be careful, make eye contact with drivers and make sure they see you.

“I tell my 6-year-old when we cross the crosswalk, wave your arms because you’re small and you may not be able to be seen,” he said.

The captain also cautioned against jaywalking. “We don’t discriminate,” he said. “If you’re a car or a pedestrian or a bicycle, you’ll get a ticket” if you don’t follow the rules of the road.

He said a motorcycle officer was recently assigned to Central and will do more traffic stings.

After Capt. Lazar left, Lee concluded the hour-long meeting by telling people they don’t have to do anything extra to be part of community watch. it’s about getting to know your neighbors and bonding with your neighbors. “Safety is everybody’s responsibility,” he said.

He recapped action items:

  • Ask Gateway management to put up signs to discourage “tailgating” when entering the building on foot
  • In the garage, wait until the garage door closes before you proceed to park your car
  • Lock windows and doors: More than 50 percent of burglaries happen because people didn’t lock windows and doors
  • Eliminate enticement by closing curtains when you’re not home
  • Get to know each other
  • Observe and report: If you overlook the plaza level, look out occasionally to see if you notice suspicious activities
  • Talk to other neighbors about safety and community watch