San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott stood beside a metal frame bunk bed in a cramped North Beach single room occupancy hotel Monday morning and peeked out of its window where he saw the marquee of the Hungry I Club, one of the remaining strip clubs on Broadway Street.
Scott spoke with a shy young man and an elderly woman — the room’s residents — as a gaggle of people, crammed into the adjacent hallway, peered in the open room’s door. They included neighborhood leaders, police officers and politicians who were leading the new chief around one of The City’s most iconic neighborhoods.
The SRO was the penultimate stop on a morning walk around Chinatown and parts of North Beach, which was organized by Supervisor Aaron Peskin to introduce Scott to the area.
“Chief Scott is going to get to know Chinatown like the back of his hand,” Peskin said.
The tour is one of several such walks the chief has made as part of his effort to more intimately acquaint himself with The City he swore to protect in January after being chosen by Mayor Ed Lee to lead the Police Department. Unlike the majority of other San Francisco police chiefs, Scott is not from The City, but in the past six months he has been trying to get to know it through similar walks in the Bayview, Tenderloin, Oceanview and Potrero Hill.
Monday’s Chinatown walk included meeting locals, from housing project residents to some of the neighborhood’s leaders. It ranged from Portsmouth Square and the Chinese Hospital to Rose Pak Alley and the Ping Yuen public housing projects. The chief and his entourage tasted freshly made fortune cookies, met with leaders of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and visited neighborhood staple Caffe Trieste.
“It’s nice to meet all the players,” Scott said as he strolled across a rooftop basketball court at Cameron House. “It’s really about understanding the community and their needs.”
The message he heard from those residents included a call for more foot patrols, more Cantonese speaking officers and increased efforts to fight property crimes such as car break-ins and snatch-and-grab robberies.
Steven Lee, an entertainment commissioner and Chinatown business owner who was part of the tour, told the chief that car break-ins are becoming more brazen.
He said people see “car window break-ins right in front of [restaurant].”
In the first two weeks of June alone there were 186 car break-ins in the Police Department’s Central District, which includes Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, North Beach and parts of the Financial District. During that same period there were 16 reported burglaries and 15 robberies in the district.
But crime was not the only topic discussed as Scott passed through alleys and throngs of children at play.
For much of the walk, Scott was led by the Rev. Norman Fong, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center. Fong cracked jokes and told Scott about the divided politics of Chinatown as well the crime he saw growing up in the neighborhood. He also talked about the legacy of racism against Chinese people.
“This used to be the Oriental School. All the Asians used to be segregated here,” Fong said as they walked past a large building up the hill from Stockton Street.
At a Ping Yuen housing project under renovation, near where Central District Station Capt. Paul Yep, who was also on the walk, grew up, Fong spoke about how the project, first created just for Asian residents, used to have more crime.
“All the punks grew up here,” Fong joked about the building where he said previously housed everything from too many fireworks to methamphetamine labs.
Ten minutes later, the group squeezed up the stairway of an SRO just east of Columbus Avenue on Broadway.
“Lenny Bruce lived here,” Fong said about the now-dead famous stand-up comedian and political provocateur.
Celebrity guests aside, Peskin made sure Scott understood where the SRO stood among its peers.
“Just so you know, Chief, this is a really good-looking SRO,” Peskin said.
With a group of residents looking on at the visitors, and all jokes aside, Fong spoke about how about 500 families live in SROs in Chinatown and what even the best conditions in them is like.
“It’s a different kind of poverty when you don’t have a toilet,” Fong said about the shared bathrooms of SROs.
The last stop before lunch — Caffe Trieste — had little to do with crime, but Scott and his entourage had been walking since 9a.m. and needed a pick-me-up.
Scott will return to the neighborhood soon. In fact, he’s attending a Chinese Six Company event Saturday where he will no doubt hear from community members, much like he did Monday while walking through the neighborhood.
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