Youth violence spotlights juvenile probation

Less than two weeks ago, six teenage boys were wounded in two related shootouts between rival street gangs in The City’s Western Addition.  A few days later, a 15-year-old boy was gunned down while standing on a street corner in the Mission district. Last week, a 20-year-old man was shot to death about a mile away.

While investigations are ongoing and confidentiality laws prevent San Francisco authorities from discussing individual juvenile records, there is a sizable chance that some of the youths involved already have criminal histories.

The recent streak of youth violence in The City’s Mission and Western Addition districts has put the oft-criticized, cash-strapped San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department in an even brighter spotlight. However, Bill Siffermann, the chief probation officer for the Juvenile Probation Department, who was recruited from Chicago two years ago, is optimistic about some changes in the pipeline.

There are 600 juveniles on probation, 20 percent of whom are considered high risk and about 10 percent of whom are responsible for major violent crimes. There are 50 probation officers assigned to them, or one for every 12 cases.

In practice, however, some officers are responsible for 30 to 40 kids, Siffermann said. In recent years, Siffermann said, officers have become so bogged down in paperwork that they are asking the juveniles to come to them, rather than visiting them at home and school.

“That’s not an effective way to work — the magic is in the community,” Siffermann said.

Despite a recent $2 million funding increase, bringing the budget to $39 million in the 2007-08 fiscal year, the department is still reeling from past cuts that slashed dozens of positions, many of them supervisors or clerical workers. For example, the person who picked up department mail from City Hall was let go, and when Siffermann came on board two years ago, the mail had not been picked up in four months.

However, Siffermann said nine new officers will be on board by this fall. He is also working to change the way cases are distributed among probation officers, assigning officers to specific geographical regions.

Siffermann is also hoping to implement “call ins” soon, regularly held workshops for juveniles on probation with program coordinators, educators and probation officers on hand.

Residents rallying last week to stop the violence in the Western Addition have been calling for just that.

“I see people I grew up with fighting,” said 17-year-old Manika Clay, who just graduated from Galileo High School. “We need more community involvement and more police being serious.”

arocha@examiner.com


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