Examiner Editorial: Trying to solve Golden Gate Park violence

This summer’s outbreak of violence and destructiveness in Golden Gate Park demonstrates yet again that The City’s attempts to keep its signature park a safe and welcoming family destination have been “a broken system for many years” — as police Capt. Teresa Barrett recently told The San Francisco Examiner.

In the early hours of Aug. 28, a 53-year-old homeless man was found beaten to death at Kezar Stadium. He was known to many as a longtime dweller of Golden Gate Park. In July, unleashed dogs owned by park transients attacked two people and sent them to a hospital. Earlier this summer, one transient stabbed another to death outside the Conservatory of Flowers.

Police and park patrol officers hand out numerous citations daily to those found in violation of sleeping or camping in the park, but longtime inhabitants reject city outreach efforts and shrug off currently available enforcement measures. “The citations go to traffic court … and they are summarily dismissed in traffic court,” Barrett said.

San Francisco parks generally have overnight-closing rules, although there is no standard policy citywide. In many parks, it’s an infraction to be there from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Other parks are proclaimed closed at sunset. However, visitors can be in Golden Gate Park at any hour. It’s only illegal to camp or sleep, consume alcohol or be a public nuisance there.

There’s actually a reason for this. Heavily used Golden Gate Park hosts numerous legitimate activities after dark, which can regularly extend past a 10 p.m. closing. The California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum host increasingly popular evening events. Outdoor concerts and other scheduled events add to the night traffic. San Franciscans use the park for their late-evening bicycle rides or commutes, dog walks and before-dawn workouts.

In recent weeks, Mayor Gavin Newsom has met with the police command to discuss ways of establishing law and order in Golden Gate Park. The police want a more consistent enforcement policy for parks citywide, with stricter closing hours backed by active night patrolling at Golden Gate Park and other key sites.

SFPD Assistant Chief Jeff Godown provides assurances that “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.”

By imposing a park closure time, chronic violators can be cited on misdemeanor trespassing charges. For serial troublemakers, drug dealers and their outlaw encampments, the realistic threat of immediate removal to a holding cell until their trespassing charges are heard might be just what’s needed.

But any tougher Golden Gate Park closure policy must not risk interfering with law-abiding citizens who utilize the park at night and in the early morning.

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