Foot patrol cuts anger residents

As voters prepare to decide the fate of Proposition M, which would mandate police foot patrols, Chief George Gascón is supporting the removal of one such officer from the tight-knit community of Bernal Heights.

Community groups are outraged by the decision after residents there worked hard to have an officer walk full-time along Cortland Avenue after a spate of robberies in 2008. Gascón said the move by Ingleside Capt. Louis Cassenego was necessary because of budget constraints. The department is expected to lose 78 officers to retirement by next summer, meaning there will be fewer officers to deploy to patrol cars, investigative tasks and foot beats.

Cassenego plans to stretch already-existing beats to fill the void. Two officers at a time will patrol Mission Street, Glen Park and
Bernal Heights on bicycles.

“The type of crime going on there is what made the decision,” Cassenego said of Cortland Avenue. “There’s more violent crime
happening elsewhere.”

While the move may make residents feel less safe, it has also provided political fodder for both sides of a November ballot measure.

Prop. M would require the captains of all 10 police stations to work with merchants and community members to establish specific foot beats. The proposal is the latest by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi in a bitter four-year battle to regulate the deployment of officers, and it has drawn fierce criticism from Gascón and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Gascón said he needs the flexibility to reassign officers in the face of tough budgetary times. San Francisco closed a $482 million deficit for the current fiscal year and is expected to face another $400 million shortfall next year.

“The problem, again, at the end of the day, comes down to money,” Gascón told the Police Commission on Wednesday.

Residents met Thursday night to discuss the change. Buck Bagot, a volunteer with the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, said before the meeting that it’s “crazy” to dismantle one of the most successful programs in The City.

“If the Mayor’s Office is saying we don’t need Prop. M to keep foot beats on the streets, then what are they doing taking foot beats off the streets?”

Supervisor David Campos, who represents the area, said he understands the budget problems but that in the end, foot patrols actually save money by proactively fighting crime.

“People are legitimately concerned that something they’ve worked so hard at is being taken away,” he said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

On the streets

Number of foot beats (one officer on two of the three daily watches, or 20 hours) staffed by year:

2007: 23,022
2008: 25,794
2009: 26,212
2010*: 11,750

* Through July

Source: SFPD

Bay Area NewsGeorge GasconLocalSFPD

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