Beats make city feel safer

While a majority of San Franciscans feel safer since a police foot-patrol program was implemented last year, the Police Department doesn’t possess the management skills to run the program, according to a report released Tuesday.

Thousands of residents and police officers were surveyed for the study, which also outlines when and where officers have been walking a beat. The Police Department, however, was unable to offer concrete crime statistics to help determine whether the beats actually reduce crime. The report cites the department’s “antiquated and inefficient technology” and “lack of administrative oversight” as factors in the failure to collect crime numbers.

The City hired a consultant firm, the Public Safety Strategies Group, to evaluate a one-year foot-patrol pilot program approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2006. Under the program, which began in January 2007, a minimum of 20 officers were required to walk a foot beat within a 24-hour period.

The legislation, introduced by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, caused a stir when both Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Police Officers Association opposed the mandate, arguing that the police chief, not elected officials, should decide when and where to deploy officers.

“Police have a latitude in determining their own strategy, but there are some who see this as a luxury and some who see this as an integral part of police work,” Mirkarimi said. “I believe you will see more foot patrols, and more structured community policing in neighborhoods. What’s been missing all along though is the accountability.”

There was an 86 percent increase in foot patrols in 2007 from 2006, according to the study. More than 2,000 San Franciscans were asked if they felt safer after the implementation of foot patrols, and 82 percent polled by phone and 73 percent responding to the written survey said yes.

The Police Commission would work to improve a lot of the deficiencies in the department as far as technology, record keeping and overall strategic planning, said Theresa Sparks, president of The City’s Police Commission, adding that, it’s “the lack of coordination that I found the most disconcerting.”

Newsom’s office, said the report documents the “successful implementation of the foot patrols at the district level” and said it has offered to take the lead in facilitating a working group that the report recommends be created to provide assistance in the development and implementation of a citywide foot patrol strategy.

The Police Department will respond to the report in the next two days, spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina said.

bbegin@examiner.com

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