New ‘community ambassadors’ to begin patrolling Castro, Upper Market

The Castro is set to become San Francisco’s latest neighborhood to try to deter crime and address quality-of-life issues through...

The Castro is set to become San Francisco’s latest neighborhood to try to deter crime and address quality-of-life issues through a newly launched community ambassador program.

The initiative by community collaborative Castro Cares will place unarmed public safety ambassadors in the neighborhood from Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. beginning this week.

The ambassadors are expected to be an “extra set of eyes and ears in the neighborhood,” said Andrea Aiello, executive director for the Castro Community Benefit District, which manages Castro Cares.

“There’s been a lot of property crime in the neighborhood, particularly broken windows on the ground floor of commercial businesses, and also a feeling among shoppers and residents that the Castro just didn’t feel as safe as it used to,” said Aiello. “Merchants [were] also having problems with people with untreated mental illness coming into the stores being disruptive.”

Crime data shows there was a 49% increase in burglaries, a 35% increase in auto theft and a 44% increase in arson across San Francisco from 2019 to 2020.

While police will still respond to crimes in the area, the ambassador program will offer a non-police alternative to issues on the streets. The uniformed civilians will be equipped with radios and de-escalation skills.

“I think that this public safety ambassador program is part of a larger effort that The City is working on to look at non-police alternatives to increase safety,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the area. “So having some uniformed folks out on the street who can engage with residents and businesses and unhoused folks and try to make the sidewalks and public spaces feel safe and welcoming for everyone is kind of the goal here.”

Similar community programs have been established in the so-called East Cut and Union Square District, where ambassadors have worked to clean up litter and graffiti, provide hospitality interactions and respond to quality-of-life issues.

The ambassador program is part of a three-point public safety initative from the Castro CBD.

The plan also calls for having unhoused people volunteer for a work-experience program “beautifying and cleaning” the district. Participants will in turn receive basic needs stipends and services to help them achieve full employment and housing.

Volunteeers will work weekday afternoons, and supplement existing cleaning services provided by Castro CBD.

The third component of the initiative is having San Francisco Patrol Special Police provide armed foot and vehicle patrols Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. and Sunday and Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The initiative is being funded by a $413,245 grant given to Castro CBD from the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Castro CBD uses funds raised through a special property tax assessment to clean the neighborhood, establish safety services, support community events and advocate for the district.

mbeck@sfexaminer.com

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