Lawlessness on San Francisco streets reached a new height with the Halloween night shootout on Market Street that left 10 bystanders injured. The incident bracketed crime in The City. San Francisco is approaching a second year of near-record homicides. No surprise, then, that polls show deep public concerns for safety on our streets, parks and transit. And, despite Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Care Not Cash program, the homeless continue to camp in our parks and on our streets.
Most seriously, the mayor suffers a crippling dysfunctional relationship with his police force.
The mayor should recall his own recommendation of two years ago. Taking a question from a listener on a local pop radio station, Newsom said, “If I come back next year, and you still see these homicide rates, you can begin the campaign to recall me. And you know what? I may be right there as a co-signer of that effort.”
That was two years ago. Now the homicide rate is again nearing record levels, as it did in the year he made that statement.
In April 2006, the San Francisco Safety Network, a nonprofit conglomeration of neighborhood community groups, polled 2,400 residents representing all 10 police districts. The survey showed that half of San Francisco residents feel unsafe or somewhat unsafe from crime, especially while riding public transit. Even in the relatively safe Western Taraval area, 35 percent felt unsafe on the streets, 45 percent in the parks and 45 percent on public transit.
Ken Garcia, writing in The Examiner last month, highlighted the encampments by street people in Golden Gate Park. After just three days of a cleanup effort, crews gathered more than seven tons of rubbage and “uncovered sites full of hypodermic needles, other drug paraphernalia and the stuff one would expect to find in areas used as public toilets.”
But it’s not just Golden Gate Park. In The City’s neighborhood parks and in the downtown area, camping out in broad daylight is commonplace. Whether it’s gang violence or street people openly defying the law, it’s part of the same syndrome — unaddressed lawlessness.
To fight this lawlessness, Mayor Newsom must have a solid trust of his police force. But the mayor, through a series of missteps, has lost that trust. Within hours of revelation of a controversial video produced for a holiday police officers party, the mayor condemned the entire force, saying: “Enough is enough.’’ Without investigation or hearings, he promised a panel to review the entire department’s operations. Later, after the San Francisco Chronicle ran a series entitled “The Use of Force,” the mayor said, “I am going to run roughshod over the department to make sure that a computerized database is established to track all officers.”
Prior to his announcement, there were no hearings, no internal investigations, no independent verification about the allegations in the report. Just a blanket condemnation of the entire force. In both cases, he was quick to side with the media, not with his police force. These actions have seriously damaged the relation a mayor needs with his law enforcers.
A mayor is the commander-in-chief for The City. In the face of a crime wave highlighted by the Halloween night shootings,San Francisco needs a full-time mayor. Questionable but high-profile initiatives such as universal health care and tidal energy, not to mention the loss of the 49ers football team and the prospective loss of the 2016 Olympic Games, have blurred the mayor’s focus.
The City’s residents need to feel safe on the streets and in their neighborhoods. The City needs a mayor that has the trust of his police officers. Most importantly, The City needs a mayor with the passion and stamina to address escalating crime in San Francisco. But Mayor Newsom recently told a TV audience that there are days he lacks the passion and intensity for the job. In the same interview, he said he “doesn’t need the job” and expressed doubt if he wanted to be mayor for a second term. He said there are 50 other people who could do the job. If so, for the sake of The City, the mayor should step aside — or face the reality in the streets.
Arthur Bruzzone is a San Francisco political commentator and hosts the TV series “San Francisco/unscripted.”