Castro responds to attacks 

Community patrols starting next month come in wake of three assaults since July

In the days after Mark Welsh was attacked and raped on his way home from work, he went through a wide spectrum of emotions, but his decision to speak up has helped steel a neighborhood into action against violent criminals.

The Sept. 29 assault on Sanchez Street near 18th Street was the third since July in a neighborhood that "used to be everyone’s safe haven," Welsh said. In response to the attacks, Castro residents are organizing themselves into patrols to walk high-risk areas and look fordanger.

At a community meeting Monday, neighborhood residents met with police, safety advocates and Supervisor Bevan Dufty to discuss the assaults and come up with a response to the uptick in violence. The result, patrol organizer Carlton Paul said, was that 99 people signed up on the spot to walk beats.

The Castro can make an attractive target for muggers because of its many dark side streets and large number of bars, San Francisco Police Gang Task Force Officer Len Broberg said Thursday.

"You have somebody who’s impaired a little bit, if they’ve been drinking a lot," Broberg said. For a potential robber or attacker, that combines nicely with plenty of easy escape routes. Dark streets off 18th Street provide plenty of hiding places, he said.

The patrols are due to start around the second week in November, Paul said. He said participants in Castro Community on Patrol will complete a four-hour training course that will involve some self-defense training, instructions on how to de-escalate violent situations and tips on how to be an effective witness.

When two men hit Welsh, 50, in the back of the head and neck as he walked home from his job managing the Rock Hard adult shop at about 10:30 p.m., they punched and kicked him, calling him "faggot," he said. Then the men dragged Welsh between two buildings and raped him.

"I went home and did everything I shouldn’t have, which was throw my clothes away and take a shower — a very long, hot shower," Welsh said. The clothes could have provided physical evidence that might have linked Welsh’s attackers to the crime.

The community patrol training is aimed at helping witnesses and victims of violent crimes take note of evidence and features that could help identify or convict criminals, Broberg said.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty pledged to support the patrols, securing $1,500 from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to help fund them. Paul said other individual and corporate donations have been coming in as well.

But Broberg said the best way to stay safe is for revelers and residents alike to follow common-sense guidelines.

Be aware of surroundings. If you’re leaving a bar with someone, make sure someone else knows who you’re leaving with. Call a cab instead of walking or driving, he said. If you must walk after dark, he said, walk in pairs.

amartin@examiner.com

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