Local Editorial: Promising new S.F. community-policing push

When George Gascón started work as San Francisco police chief in August, The Examiner was hopeful he would shake up the department’s long-entrenched ways. We wanted him to make his top priority cleaning up community trouble spots so the streets would become safer.

So far, the chief seems to be doing that — and more. Gascón is not only shaking up ineffective SFPD practices, his big spike in felony arrests is shaking up prosecutors, public defenders, the courts and County Jail.

First, police crackdown targets have been the open-air drug market in the Tenderloin and the Sunset’s fire-hazard marijuana growing operations. For both pushes, Gascón’s approach was similar: Sweeps began with little fanfare, then after a few weeks Gascón would hold a news conference outlining impressively improved arrest rates.

That’s all fine — more creative and energetic than The City is used to seeing. It’s still early in the process, so a question remains about whether or not the effort will continue long enough to make lasting changes. Previously, much-ballyhooed anti-crime strikes faded quietly after the publicity died down, opening the door for thugs and drug peddlers to return to their old haunts.

Yet, the first results are undeniably promising. In the Sunset district, 36 concealed marijuana growing operations were raided this year — all but two in rented homes — and 44 arrests were made. Twenty weapons and some $85,000 in cash were seized.

Most raids were triggered by tips from concerned neighbors who noticed foul odors, blocked windows and suspicious visitors at odd hours. Community residents realize the slipshod wiring typically associated with indoor pot farms makes for a deadly fire hazard in the Sunset’s closely packed wood-frame houses. Four fires have been sparked at growing operations this year, which is twice as much as the previous annual average.

The Tenderloin crackdown sent 207 felony narcotics cases to court in only three weeks. That’s almost as many as had been charged throughout The City during the prior month. Most of the 302 arrests were undercover stings of people allegedly selling crack-cocaine, heroin and prescription painkillers to police — sometimes near schools.

Nearly half those arrested were on felony parole or probation. Dealers commuted from as far away as Stockton, Fresno and Santa Rosa. Violent crime in the Tenderloin dropped by 41 percent and property crime fell by 32 percent during the sweep.

The downside is that The City’s admittedly hard-pressed courts and jails are straining to handle the influx of criminals. But there seems to be a good chance the bulge could be temporary and worth the effort, if tougher community policing discourages more crooks from working in San Francisco.

Keep it up, Chief Gascón.

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