Tuesday’s stabbing of a police officer at San Francisco International Airport could have been a lot worse, as the officer’s injuries were minor enough that he was released from the hospital that same day. (The alleged assailant, however, still faces attempted murder of a peace officer charges.) But the incident sheds light on the discomforting trend of Bay Area homeless people crashing at SFO each evening, since the suspect in the stabbing has been described by sources as “a transient hanging around the airport.” ABC 7 reports that both the SFPD and SFO are considering new methods of addressing the growing number of homeless people using the airport as a place to sleep and spend the night.
The police officer in question has asked that his name not be released, but we do know that he’s 49 years old has been with the department for 23 years. “He is very relieved that no members of the public were hurt and that he was able to overcome this violent attack,” SFPD airport bureau deputy chief Denise Schmitt said in a statement to the Chronicle. “He is thankful for the quick action of bystanders and especially the other airport employees who jumped in to assist him once he got the suspect on the ground. He and his family appreciate all the supportive messages they have received.”
The officer was stabbed multiple times when responding to a complaint about a suspicious person in Terminal One. That suspicious person was reportedly 64-year-old Dooris Johnston, a homeless man who remains held without bail at a correctional facility in Redwood City. “On average, we see about a dozen homeless people per day at the airport that we're making contact with," SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel told ABC 7, noting that many arrive on the 1 a.m. final BART train of the evening looking for a warm, quiet place to sleep.
SFPD has been making efforts to discourage this behavior. "We do meet the last BART train in and there's very little reason to be at the airport unless you're a ticketed passenger," SFPD deputy chief Denise Schmitt told ABC 7. Officers reportedly offer SAMTrans tokens, free bus rides to San Francisco, or referrals to mental health organizations.
But the recent stabbing indicates they may not be doing enough. To that end, SFO and SFPD are considering a joint effort to add full-time advocates at the airport to redirect and offer resources to people seeking shelter and hope to have that program in place by the end of the year.