Car chase, shooting shock Russian Hill 

A brazen daylight car chase Thursday ended in a head-on collision and a shooting in the upscale Russian Hill neighborhood, sending three people to the hospital and leaving witnesses and business owners shaken.

A sport utility vehicle sped off after one of its occupants fired what witnesses reported was four gunshots at the passenger of a Honda Civic that had crashed into another car near the intersection of Polk Street and Broadway. Police had not located the SUV or identified a suspect in the case.

The driver of the Honda and the gunshot victim were taken to San Francisco General Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, as was the driver of the car that the Honda crashed into, police spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina said.

Police began receiving calls just after 10:30 a.m. reporting that an SUV was chasing a black Honda Civic through the streets on The City’s northern side, Mannina said. The two cars raced southbound on Polk Street, but then the Honda made a wide right turn westbound onto Broadway, Mannina said.

The Honda crashed into an oncoming Acura that was heading east on Broadway, injuring both the woman at the Honda’s wheel and the individual in the Acura, Mannina said. Just then, the SUV caught up with the Honda.

Someone in the SUV began firing at the male passenger of the Honda, hitting him as he tried to escape, Sgt. Neville Gittens said. The SUV then took off westbound on Broadway.

Mannina said the people in the Honda knew those in the SUV. He said the attack was "not random or road rage." Police have not stated whether the incident was gang-related.

The man who was shot ran into Harry’s Hair Studio at 2059 Polk St., where stylist Jenny Phan was in the back washing up for an appointment. The wounded man tried to run into the back room of the shop, Phan said, "but I closed the door and locked it."

Mary Lin, who was working the front of the shop, said she ran out into the street with the shop’s cordless phone after the man pushed his way in. "I screamed two or three times. I was afraid she [Phan] got hurt," Lin said. She called 911 as the bleeding man collapsed on the floor of the shop. "He just wanted help," she said. No customers were in the shop at the time.

After about five minutes, the women said, police and paramedics came. "When I heard the police come in I started to leave the [back] room," Phan said.

Neighborhood concern focuses on crime trends

A car chase and shootout in The City’s normally tranquil Russian Hill neighborhood comes amid concerns about neighborhood crime, and the day after Deputy Police Chief Morris Tabak slammed the county’s criminal justice system for being too lenient.

At a presentation at Wednesday night’s Police Commission meeting, Tabak showed statistics indicating that San Francisco’s arrest rate is roughly equal to or higher than that in comparably sized counties, but the number of defendants who serve prison time is much lower. That so-called leniency leads to so-called "commuter criminals" from out of town, as well as numerous repeat offenders, he said.

But neighbors and business owners in the upper Polk area that spans Russian Hill and western Nob Hill say they are less worried about random, albeit violent, incidents such as Thursday’s than they are about the area’s sex trade, which they say has gotten more prevalent, more organized and more frightening.

"The one thing that I’ve noticed in this neighborhood is that the prostitution has changed. We’ve always had prostitutes in this area, but it was always an independent-type thing. You’re seeing more organization now. The girls and guys are working for someone else," said a business owner who asked not to be identified.

"But the couple shootings that have happened, that doesn’t make me feel any more unsafe. They were random and it could have been anywhere," she said.

Neighbor Dawn Trennert said she had been working with police and other concerned residents to try to address the organized prostitution. "They’re coming with pimps and they’re coming with guns and it’s not like it used to be," she said. "The police records would indicate that the majority of it [prostitution and crime] is intruders coming from outside of San Francisco," she said

Trennert said there is a neighborhood meeting planned for next week to discuss the need for an increased police presence.

But simply increasing the number of officers in the area won’t curb crime, Trennert said. "In many cases you have the police saying, ‘We can book them but they’ll only be in for an hour because the DA won’t book them,’ and you have the DA saying, ‘We won’t prosecute because the courts won’t take it seriously,’" she said, echoing almost exactly the theme of Tabak’s presentation: "A lenient criminal justice system does not deter crime, it invites it."

District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh said, "We work in partnership with members of SFPD to bring perpetrators to justice, which is why the conviction rate is at its highest in a decade. State prison commitments are also up 29 percent since 2003."

amartin@examiner.com

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