The true extent of violence in Golden Gate Park is unclear, police say, in part because many people who sleep illegally in the park aren’t reporting robberies and assaults against them.
The 1,117-acre park has been a hot spot of violence in the last year, including the July 7 dog mauling in the park that kicked off a police enforcement campaign. That same month, a man was stabbed to death in the park. More recently, a transient was beaten to death near Kezar Stadium.
In response, San Francisco supervisors peppered police on Monday with questions about murders, robberies and thefts committed there, as well as how to make the park safer. Police would not say how many cops they have patrolling the area, but there are as many as three park rangers roaming the park 24 hours a day.
So far this year, there have been 213 serious felonies, including two homicides, 15 assaults and 11 robberies, said Police Capt. Richard Corriea.
“What concerns me is the amount of crime that isn’t reported,” Corriea said. “It’s pretty significant and it’s hard to put a number on it, but when I go out at 4 a.m. the homeless folks will have recent injuries or tell a story about someone beating them for food or their backpack.”
Homelessness in Golden Gate Park has declined in recent years as The City has offered services and started early-morning sweeps to roust the illegal campers. Dozens of hardcore homeless have ignored citations, however, and refused to leave the park.
In order to crack down on sleeping in the park, The City has pitched shuttering the park at night. As it stands, it is illegal to camp in Golden Gate Park or sleep in the park between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., but violators are merely issued tickets. Police have issued 746 citations for sleeping in the park this year.
Mayor Gavin Newsom has drafted legislation that would impose park closures at night, allowing police to file charges instead of writing tickets. Newsom is working to push the legislation through the Board of Supervisors before he leaves office in January.
San Francisco is one of the largest cities in the nation that does not close its parks at night. The 11 cities that are larger all have enforceable park curfews, according to Recreation and Park Department officials.
The all-hours access to Golden Gate Park attracts a critical mass of illegal activity, police said. Often, victims are unwilling to report crimes because they themselves are doing something illegal, Corriea said.
Corriea told supervisors on Monday that it is worth exploring park closures at night. He also said The City could add more lighting and park rangers and even cut back shrubbery.
Corriea noted that crime declined at Golden Gate Park between 2009 and 2010 after police launched enforcement programs.
“My sense is that there is a division in the community about whether the park should be closed at night or not,” Corriea said.
Phil Ginsburg, general manager for the Recreation and Parks Department, said one way to make the park safer is to offer more activities and programs there.
“The best thing we can do and the most cost-effective thing we can do is to continue to activate parks and spaces, and the staff is committed to do that with more events and programs and healthy recreation opportunities,” Ginsburg said.
Crime in Golden Gate Park has become a hot-button issue the year, spurring hearings at City Hall.