San Francisco police have begun doing more foot patrols around Union Square, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf, in an effort to deter crime and make locals and tourists feel safer about the city. But is this just safety theater?
ABC 7 has a piece from longtime Chronicle columnist Phil Matier about this effort by the SFPD, talking about how Union Square has gone from a center of glamour and high-end shopping to a hotbed of petty crime and brazen retail thievery. Whether or not crime is wildly worse than it was a decade ago or a decade before that is up for debate — but there's no doubt that the pandemic year shifted things a bit, and many San Franciscans have a perception that crime is out of control.
"I mean, I think, you know, crime is one thing, you know, on perceptions," says SFPD Captain Julian Ng, talking to Matier about the department's Tourism Deployment Plan. "When I say perception that means the fear of crime. Right? So even if crime is down, and there's a perception or fear of crime is still high, then it doesn't, you know, the perception is there's a lot of crime."
Mayor London Breed knows that perceptions, as well as rampant car break-ins that have been ongoing for years, are bad for the tourism business overall. This led her to announce in May that the city would be deploying more cops on foot patrols as part of the Mid-Market Vibrancy and Safety Plan — and separately we now have the Tourism Deployment Plan, which she also announced in an effort to make tourists feel safer as the city opened up this summer.
Ng says the foot patrols do probably work.
"It makes a difference because everybody sees that there's officers out here, right? So [what we're] doing is prevention, to deter the crime before it happens," NG tells Matier.
He adds that the patrols appear to have led to a decrease in car break-ins around Fisherman's Wharf in recent weeks.
And Ng also blames social media and a few high-profile incidents for impacting public perceptions in an outsize way.
"I mean, if you look at hard data, I think the chief announced it a couple months ago, if you look at the hard numbers, the climb [in crime] is not, you know, rising at an at a rate where people think, but you know, social media is rising. So perception is there, right?" Ng says.
Kevin Carrol, who heads the city's Hotel Council, tells Matier that he's grateful for the foot patrols.
"[It] helps with public safety absolutely. For our employees, and then also for our visitors as well," Carrol says. "When they can visually see beat officers out on the street it provides them with a sense of security, and it also does provide security."
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images