Last month a group of business owners in Seattle gathered for a town hall to discuss persistent crime in the city. All of the owners had experienced break-ins, often several of them in a year. And the cost to repair broken windows and doors was often more than the value of whatever thieves had stolen. Several of the owners had been dropped by their insurance because they’d made too many claims. They wondered why the police never seemed to have time to walk around their neighborhood at night to keep the thieves at bay.
The situation doesn’t seem to be much different in San Francisco. When Joe Vernieri, the owner of the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge, reported his bar had been broken into it took police 15 hours to respond and even then they responded in the middle of the night when no one was around.
The Lombard Street bar was closed that January morning, but its front window was open — and its curtain blew in the breeze. [Mick] Martinez, a neighbor out walking his dog, figured somebody broke in. He used the flashlight on his cell phone to peer inside and shouted, “OK, fellas! The game’s over!”
Within seconds, he later told me, three men leaped out of the window, hopped into an old, white Ford pickup truck with no license plate and sped off west on Lombard. Their plunder? A stereo speaker and a pricey trumpet, together worth thousands of dollars…
[Owner Joe] Vernieri drove to his bar and found the burglars had left a safe just underneath the open window, perhaps too spooked by Martinez to hoist it outside.
Vernieri said he didn’t expect much from the police and waited longer than he should have to call. But he phoned SFPD’s Central Station at 1:06 p.m., telling a dispatcher his business had been robbed, he had a cooperative eyewitness and that he thought it might be linked to other burglaries of small businesses in the Marina.
Could an officer come to the bar to investigate? Nope, he said the dispatcher told him. Could he make an appointment at an officer’s convenience? Nope again. Police were busy, she said.
Vernieri finally got a call back from an officer at 3:44am. He was asleep and missed it. The officer didn’t leave his name or his number but promised to try again. But as you’ve probably guessed by now, that never happened. So as far as Vernieri is concerned there are no police in San Francisco. None that will help him.
And his wasn’t the first break in on the street. A few days earlier, thieves (maybe the same guys) broke into Chico’s Pizza a few doors down:
[Khaleel] Almalak said he made several 911 calls that day and the following day, but police didn’t respond until about 6 p.m. Jan. 12, or about 36 hours after the break-in.
“I was going crazy. I wasn’t asking for 20 police officers, just one police officer to take a police report,” Almalak told me. “They told me they were busy because it was raining.”
When he did finally talk to police, they told him there had been a string of robberies in the neighborhood. And no doubt the string will continue because police can’t be bothered and no one has been arrested. Khaleel Almalak, the owner of Chico’s Pizza, told the Chronicle, “San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world, but it’s getting bad.”
Police did finally get in contact with Joe Vernieri about the break in at his bar, but only after Heather Knight, the Chronicle reporter, started asking questions about it. So you can get a response from the SF police if you have a reporter for a major paper on speed dial. Otherwise not so much.
The police blame lack of staff for this. SFPD currently has 1,923 officers for a city of just over 800,000 but hundred of those officers are out of leave. The actual force is closer to 1,500. Like a lot of cities on the west coast, SFPD has “recruitment and retention problems.” I think we can all guess why. For the same reasons Portland, Seattle and other cities are having the same problem. No one wants to be a cop in a progressive city where officials are quick to see police as the problem rather than the solution.