After the PR disaster that San Francisco faced last year around the holidays, with smash-and-grab robberies being conducted left and right by coordinated gaggles of thieves, the mayor is hoping for a calmer season this year.
Mayor London Breed has a plan to deploy 150 street ambassadors from the nonprofit Urban Alchemy to provide some sense of security to the streets around Union Square, the Tenderloin, SoMa, and mid-Market. As the Chronicle reports, these ambassadors will "keep the streets clear of people camping or using drugs and respond to lower-level complaints," in addition to dealing with mental health crises, and providing help to tourists and passersby as needed.
It's not clear what these unarmed ambassadors will be equipped to do if they're faced with more flash-mob-style robberies — which is not something they're meant to deal with. But Breed says these ambassadors' presence will help to free up the SFPD to address more significant crimes.
"We are working everyday to improve safety in this city," Breed said in a statement, per the Chronicle. "San Francisco has a significant police staffing shortage, so we need to be more creative in ways that deliver a positive and welcoming experience on our street and while also ensuring our sworn offices can do their jobs."
Breed was on hand with BART GM Bob Powers and SFPD Chief Bill Scott at an event at Powell Street's Hallidie Plaza Monday, discussing improvements that are coming to the beleaguered station.
The shortage of police is a national problem, but SFist has reported multiple times in recent months that there appears to be some general apathy on the existing police force as well — with crimes that go unpunished in front of victims' eyes, and sometimes with no arrests made at all. The SFPD reportedly just graduated 13 new recruits from its academy last week and 28 more are in training, but the department still has 300 vacant spots to fill.
It's not clear if the new ambassador initiative will be an expansion of the city's extant contract with Urban Alchemy. The nonprofit is already receiving $11.8 million over two years for providing patrols in the Tenderloin.
It's now been ten months since Breed made her declaration of a State of Emergency in the Tenderloin, in the weeks following those smash-and-grab robberies, with a pledge to get more people off the streets and into drug treatment as well. That emergency declaration quietly ended in March, after some on the Board of Supervisors had been griping that crackdowns and greater police presence in the Tenderloin had simply shifted a lot of illegal activity to other neighborhoods, like the Mission.
Breed said in a statement in March that despite the emergency declaration ending, "operations launched pursuant to the Tenderloin Emergency Initiative will continue, including daily coordination, outreach, care, street cleaning, and other interventions to disrupt and mitigate harmful behaviors." Breed added,
"The challenges in the Tenderloin are decades in the making and they won’t be solved overnight, but we are committed to making a difference for everyone who lives and visits the neighborhood."
Restaurants and retailers are certainly hoping that this looks more like a normal holiday season after two consecutive years when December coincided with scary upticks in COVID cases that kept people home.
A new and pervasive variant could very well upend everything again — let's hope not! — but it's an open question whether all those luxury-goods thieves have holiday-season plans for more thieving.