SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – A violent crime wave appears to have swept through Golden Gate Park, prompting the San Francisco Police Department to reevaluate its patrols in the neighborhood.
KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:
For years, law enforcement and elected officials battled to improve the quality of life in and around Golden Gate Park, where young, homeless people have long been known to camp out and do drugs.
Recently, San Francisco began facing the added pressure of addressing a rash in violence, particularly a rise in the use of knives by some of the park dwellers.
A 22-year-old man who had been living in the park was just arrested for stabbing a 19-year-old, allegedly in retaliation for a fight involving somebody else who loitered in the park.
It was just the latest in a disturbing trend in the park.
“There is violence in the transient population that uses Golden Gate Park,” conceded Park Station captain Dennis O’Leary. “And I’m not seeing as many reports where people that live in the neighborhood are falling victim to violence.”
O’Leary was assigned to Park Station just five weeks ago, but during his short tenure he ordered increased patrols in response to the violence.
“I doubled the amount of time that officers walk a beat on Haight Street from 10 hours to 20 hours a day and I increased the number of officers that are patrolling in Golden Gate Park from 4 to 8.”
Neighbors were appreciative of the police presence. One woman described crowds of pot-smoking, beer-drinking kids dominating the east end of the park.
“It’s a little intimidating coming through them and they just hang out and they don’t really move out of the way when they see you approaching,” she said. “So, you know, you have to kind of wiggle through them and it’s just an uncomfortable feeling.”
“It’s definitely felt safer in our neighborhood because there’s a lot more police patrols,” echoed another woman.
In fact, KCBS reporter Doug Sovern witnessed the police crackdown firsthand while covering the story, when two young men who identified themselves as Eric and Raj were ticketed for their behavior.
“I just got cited for drinking in public, I had a forty ounce of Mickey’s and I knew it was wrong,” acknowledged Eric.
“One guy pulled up to us and then all of a sudden another one comes so there’s two. And then another three bikes come and then it was five around us. They’re not joking around. They’re cracking down.”
Raj described the response as overkill.
“Don’t mess around with people that aren’t making the violence, we’re just kicking back.”
O’Leary said it came down to making the park safer. Officials even floated the idea of closing the park completely from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., ostensibly in an effort to roust the homeless campers. O’Leary pegged much of the park violence on those transients.
“What I am seeing is a great number of people who are arming themselves with weapons. Now I don’t know if they were always arming themselves with weapons or if we’re learning about this because there are more police officers working the Golden Gate Park as a result of a shift in staffing here at Park Station.”
“What we’re trying to do is figure out what’s going on, see if we can get services for those people or just make it uncomfortable for them if they’re engage in criminality.”
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