San Francisco police officers seeking to enforce trespassing laws in The City’s crime-plagued public housing projects face a legal tangle that prevents many from approaching the issue for fear they may end up face with a civil rights lawsuit.
Confusing statutes and unclear city policy conspire to keep police officers from enforcing trespassing laws in public housing projects, and even to prevent some from entering the areas, according to Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.
Meanwhile, much of San Francisco’s crime happens in and around the troubled establishments. Three homicides have taken place this year near the intersection of Eddy and Laguna streets —the northeastern corner of Plaza East housing.
Much of the criminal activity in public housing projects comes from trespassers who loiter at the sites, Mirkarimi said in a hearing Monday at the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee. But police are tentative about enforcing trespassing laws because the laws are difficult to prosecute and arrests may backfire.
On March 6, Mayor Gavin Newsom, police Chief Heather Fong and other city officials held a news conference to announce an aggressive new patrol strategy that would focus on public housing sites.
Newsom and Fong announced that 28 beat officers would join 16 currently assigned to the “big four” San Francisco housing projects, which include Sunnydale, Potrero, Hunters Point and Alice Griffith, for a total of 44 cops patrolling projects citywide.
In a hearing before the Public Safety Committee, Officer John Hart, a department lawyer, said “more than mere presence” is required for a person to be breaking state trespassing laws. Police must prove criminal intent, destruction of no-trespassing signs or other specific acts in order to successfully bust trespassers.
Because of the vagaries of state trespassing laws, cities including Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles, have passed statutes addressing trespassing on public housing, Chief Assistant District Attorney Russ Giuntini said.
San Francisco lawmakers are considering a similar bill, but for now, only state laws apply.
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