Several Visitacion Valley community members were moved to tears when Helen Yee described the brutal attack that left her 88-year-old mother hospitalized with life-threatening injuries earlier this month.
“She has been injured very badly — her skull and teeth are fractured. Her neck is fractured as well as her arms,” said Yee, who called for more resources — and vigilance from neighbors– to prevent future attacks on residents and curtail crime in the neighborhood at a public safety meeting on Saturday morning.
Yee said that her mother, Yik Oi Huang, remains unresponsive in the hospital following her January 8 assault and “has not woken up,” while her unidentified attacker is at large.
“We need to come together as a community and I want each block to have a camera, whether a personal camera or a public surveillance one,” said Yee.
At the town hall held at Visitacion Valley Elementary School and attended by some four dozen residents, City, police and community leaders displayed a united front in promising to not only find the perpetrator, but to heed the community’s calls for more resources toward public safety services.
Newly instated Supervisor Shamann Walton promised to bolster police staffing, address language issues, install cameras and create a dedicated police outpost in the neighborhood to prevent future acts of violence.
Huang was brutally beaten and suffered life-threatening injuries in an assault that was discovered after officers responded to a 6:50 a.m. burglary call at her Visitacion Avenue residence. A neighbor had spotted a man inside Huang’s home after seeing the front door open, and witnesses found Huang laying in a park across the street.
Police officials have released a sketch of the suspect and the San Francisco’s police union is offering a $10,000 reward for his arrest.
Captain Sergio Chin, of San Francisco Police Department Special Victims Unit, is overseeing the investigation and said at the meeting that while he cannot reveal details, his team is “fully committed to solving this crime.”
Chin said that his investigators “have a lot of leads” but urged the public to come forward with more information.
Walton, who oversees the neighborhood, called for a moment of silence for Huang and her family before describing current safety efforts and offering long term solutions to what he called “a recent spike of violence” in Visitacion Valley.
“We have officers on dirt bikes riding through the community and more visibility of officers to make sure people feel safe,”said Walton, adding that his office is focused on bringing a police substation to the neighborhood, which currently lacks a dedicated police station as well as a foot beat patrol officer.
Robberies and acts of violence are “not isolated to Visitacion Valley,” said Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, adding that he would support Walton in getting “whatever the community wants” in regard to resources. He suggested securing funding for residents who may not be able to afford installing private cameras.
Commander Greg McEachern, of SFPD’s Investigations Bureau, said that in lieu of a foot beat patrol officer, police officials have been “re-tasking a couple of the officers” from surrounding areas to “start picking up that beat” when staffing allows. Beat officers serving the Geneva and Mission streets area are “splitting their time between that and coming down here a couple times a day.”
With more funding, McEachern said that staffing could be bolstered to allow the station to “staff somebody out here all the time.”
It is unclear where a police substation would be located — McEachern indicated that one could be installed “in the business corridor between Cora Street and Bayshore Boulevard.”
Another option, he said, could be a mobile command van, which the department deploys in downtown San Francisco during the holidays, when crime and traffic are up.
Community advocate a Marlene Tran championed that idea.
“I think that is the most viable idea — it can go to different communities…and [police] can hear from them,” said Tran.
Walton added that he would like to increase staffing on Visitacion Valley’s Community Ambassadors program, which was created 10 years ago and deploys community members to provide some safety services in the neighborhood.
He also indicated that he is working to bring in “police officers who are bilingual and speak Chinese and other languages.” Community advocates present at the meeting said that elderly and non-native English speakers often shy away from reporting crime due to language barriers.
Dianna Yee, one of Huang’s granddaughters, said that she formed a neighborhood watch group with the help of SF Safe, a nonprofit a community crime prevention and public safety program, two years ago after the family’s home was burglarized.
“Several attempted burglaries after that were prevented because of our communication with each other,” she said.
Yee added communication among neighbors is often lacking because of the the neighborhood’s diversity, but urged residents to overcome cultural and language barriers.
“The biggest impact we can have in creating safety is to get to know the neighbors that are different from you,” she said.