Crackdown on midnight mayhem

A recent rash of violence and vandalism in Golden Gate Park has city officials considering shutting down parks overnight and allowing cops to jail chronic trespassers.

Generally, city parks are closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. However, visitors can be in Golden Gate Park at any hour, it’s just against the law to sleep there, police said.

That law has done little to keep homeless people from living in San Francisco’s most popular park, and recent violence involving transients has the Police Department’s top brass pushing to shut down the park at a certain hour and stiffen penalties so troublemakers will stay out.

“Most parks across the country are closed at a certain time,” SFPD Assistant Chief Jeff Godown told The San Francisco Examiner while discussing the crime wave in the park Wednesday. “I personally wouldn’t go into a park at 11 or 12 at night.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom has been meeting with police in recent weeks to discuss ways to address alarming criminal activity in Golden Gate Park.

On Saturday, for example, a 53-year-old homeless man was found beaten to death at Kezar Stadium near the Park Police Station in the early morning. In July, unleashed dogs owned by park transients attacked two people, sending them to a hospital.

Also, there’s been a rash of vandalism during night hours, police said.

Efforts over the years to draw riffraff out of the park have been unsuccessful. Longtime campers spurn city outreach efforts and ignore the numerous citations cops hand out on a daily basis, officials said.

“The citations go to traffic court … and they are summarily dismissed in traffic court,” Capt. Teresa Barrett said Wednesday. “This has been a broken system for many years.”

Newsom has said he met a camper that received 52 citations and continued to live in the park. But if the park officially closed at night, cops could bring campers to jail on trespassing charges, Godown said.

“If there are no ramifications, people are going to continue to violate the process,” he said.

But “the cop isn’t going to walk in there and immediately yank somebody out of the park who is walking their dog at 11 p.m.,” Godown said.

Police want a more uniform enforcement system in place for parks citywide, he said.

At this point, the idea to stiffen park hours and enforcement at Golden Gate Park and others is in the discussion phase, Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said.

It’s one of several ideas to deal with criminal activity during night hours, he said, but it’s one that must be considered for The City.

“Like your mother said, ‘Not much good happens at 3 a.m.,’” Winnicker said.

Breaking the law

Infractions can be issued to park visitors for the following reasons:

-Camping

-Sleeping

-Consumption of alcohol

-Public nuisance

Source: District Attorney’s Office

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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