Raj Vaswani, Bayview Station captain, is a soft-spoken man who believes that patrol officers are the backbone of the San Francisco Police Department. Vaswani took over as captain in April, after Robert O’Sullivan was promoted to lead the department’s Golden Gate Patrol Division. Now a few months into his new assignment, Vaswani is working to deepen his understanding of the communities served by the station – which includes Potrero Hill and Dogpatch – and connect with his staff.
Vaswani wants his officers to get out of their cars and interact with residents, an example he’s prepared to set. “It’s important they’re friendly and approachable,” Vaswani said. He makes a habit of buying coffee or lunch at Bayview District eateries, taking time to talk with baristas, servers and others he encounters. He plans to walk in the footsteps of his officers; literally at times. He said he’ll be rambling the new foot beat he established on Potrero Hill last month, riding in patrol cars with his officers and visiting with community members.
The Hill’s new foot beat officer will walk a varied path, covering the 18th, 20th and Dogpatch commercial corridors. Vaswani said he plans to have a permanent foot beat officer by the end of the year. “People really need us and we need to be there for them,” Vaswani said. He believes policing makes a big difference in the daily lives of residents and visitors. Police can prompt the homeless to get help, or usher a child into protective services.
Vaswani’s more than 20 years of experience with the SFPD has given him a well-rounded understanding of policing. He’s chosen to move from position to position, because in a department as big as San Francisco it helps to be able to pick up the phone to get something done, he said. Having worked in a position similar to the individual he’s calling helps him understand what that person has to do to assist him. “I’ve done patrol, investigations and administration,” Vaswani said.
He started as a patrol officer in the Bayview District when it was located in the Potrero Station, on Third Street, before the district’s Williams Street station opened in 1997. He’s logged more hours at Northern Station – which includes the Marina, Western Addition, Japantown, Russian Hill and Pacific Heights – than at any other, a diverse area that set the tone for the rest of his career. From Northern Vaswani was promoted to inspector, conducting investigations of overnight fatalities, major injuries and serious incidents, such as homicides, shootings and gang crimes.
Vaswani then served as a patrol supervisor in the Ingleside District, before returning to investigate burglaries, cold hit DNA cases and hot prowl burglaries; burglaries when a resident is home. Next was a promotion to lieutenant, where he worked as a watch or shift commander as part of his duties. Then he did administrative work, including business regulation, permitting and monitoring of officer performance.
“I’ve wanted to be a cop since fifth grade,” he said. Vaswani said he saw a presentation in elementary school by an officer who was “very confident” and seemed to like his job. The officer brought in McGruff the Crime Dog. To his fifth grade self, policing seemed to be a fun career. He admitted it was all lights and sirens to him then. Now he understands that it’s a complex job that requires interpersonal skills and tact.