Monday’s coverage in The New York Times of what they call San Francisco’s “street behavior” problem was almost a caricature of how New Yorkers might view San Franciscans. The article attempts to simplify our very real problem of homelessness and property crime into two extreme views: one that’s soft on crime — supposedly my view — and one that’s tough on crime — supposedly Supervisor Scott Wiener’s view.
Let me be clear: I believe the rising property crime, filthy streets and tent encampments that have sprung up during the last five years are unacceptable and a sign that things are not working in City Hall. The policies of excuses, denial and throwing money at programs that simply aren’t working needs to be radically changed.
What the article fails to mention is that there is a third way that many San Francisco democrats, like District Attorney George Gascon, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and myself believe in: The answer is not to be soft or tough on crime — the answer is to be smart on crime.
While I strongly believe we shouldn’t criminalize people for being poor and homeless, I also believe crime of any type — property crime included — can’t go unaddressed. Simply hiring more officers and throwing more money at our police department without changing how we deploy those officers is just wasting money on failed policies and procedures. New officers and new resources need to be deployed using, facts, data and feedback from residents, not posturing and fear mongering.
Here are some common-sense steps San Francisco could implement tomorrow that would make real substantive changes to the quality of life in our streets and neighborhoods:
* We need to create a special city-wide property crimes unit to tackle our growing car break-in problem that utilizes bait cars, and crime-reporting app to address an issue that has been largely ignored for years. Property crimes, especially car break-ins, have been considered “just a part of life’ by many San Franciscans, and I’ve heard stories of constituents feeling brushed off or laughed at when they call to report them.
* We need to stop stalling and build more proven successful Navigation Centers to deal with our homeless encampment problem. Pushing homeless encampments into our residential neighborhoods worsens the problem and creates a desperate and unhealthy homeless population. Navigation Centers are the quickest and most effective way to humanly end homeless encampments.
* We need to build safe injection sites and wet houses to address chronic alcoholism, public drug use, the spread of HIV and used needles on the ground. Liberal cities all over the world are exploring these successful programs — and even the Chronicle now supports them.
* We need to open up the more than 200 underutilized city-owned bathrooms and build even more to stop our streets and neighborhoods from being used instead. If we don’t want people to go to the bathroom on the street, we have to give them a place to go to the bathroom. It’s as simple as that.
* We need to radically change how we deal with people who are suffering from severe mental illness and have been largely abandoned to wander our streets without the help they need. Leaving the care of our cities most vulnerable to the kindness of strangers is dangerous, and morally wrong.
Lastly, we need to change at its most basic level how The City responds to its constituents. Constituents services shouldn’t just be what the legislative and executive branch do in their spare time when their not writing laws or making sure the trains run on time. We need to seriously consider following New York’s, Seattle’s and Portland’s lead and create a Public Advocate’s Office whose sole purpose is to quickly respond to constituents not with excuses but with results.
San Francisco needs to refocus on common senses solutions to crime and stop protecting the status quo. The fact remains that criminalizing has never worked to address quality of life crimes, and a city known for innovation should frankly know better.
Stop the useless “get tough” posturing so often used by conservatives and Republicans. Let’s use data, innovation and common sense to get smart.