Police Work With Hill Residents to Combat Crime

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Potrero Hill is one of the City’s safer neighborhoods, due in large part to its residents, according to Bayview Police Captain Raj Vaswani, who oversees law enforcement in the community.

“Overall, if you look at Dogpatch and Potrero hill, it’s safer than SoMa and the Mission,” Vaswani said. “The neighbors are involved; they really care about the direction of the neighborhood, including future development and traffic. We work on those issues together. The big lure to neighborhoods like Potrero Hill and Dogpatch is they are little towns in a big city. That stability is really important to keep an area safe, because the residents are involved and care.” Roughly 60,000 crimes were reported in San Francisco in 2015. 

Vaswani and the officers that serve under him are in regular telephone and email contact with residents, who keep them informed of neighborhood happenings. Vaswani regularly checks the Twitter and Facebook accounts of community groups, as well as newspapers, including the View, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Francisco Examiner.

Last fall, resident cooperation, acting as witnesses, lead to the arrest of four people connected with a robbery on the 700 block of Vermont Street.  Likewise, the police worked with Arkansas and Texas streets residents to investigate house break-ins, using DNA to identify and arrest suspects. In another case, a woman was arrested and linked to three burglaries. Officers found her near Vermont Street after she assaulted a property owner.

“The Hill is an extremely active, small neighborhood in San Francisco,” Vaswani said. “Most people know what’s going on in the neighborhood.”

In another incident, an individual was making children and their caretakers uncomfortable by following, watching, and talking about the kids.  “Many times our officers do offer DPH [Department of Public Health] services when we can. In this case, we were able to communicate what he was doing was inappropriate and parents/caretakers were concerned. We offered him shelter, which he declined.”

A Hill resident secured a stay-away order, a court-issued civil instruction that notified the person in writing that he wasn’t allowed to harass, follow, or communicate in hostile ways. The person is no longer harassing the kids; Vaswani increased patrols in the area.

Automobile break-ins remain a common criminal activity.  Bayview police officers attend Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association meetings, network with business owners, and remind people not to leave belongings in their cars.  Plainclothes officers are  dispatched to dine or hangout nearby popular restaurants, which Vaswani declined to identify, to watch for people casing cars; if a break-in occurs an arrest is made. 

Officers’ work hours vary depending on crime trends, deployed in unmarked cars, on foot, and on special projects. They patrol from behind bushes and vehicles, or stroll sidewalks to watch areas where there’s been a spike in burglaries, robberies, or shootings. They also work on gang cases and investigate gang members that have a crime specialty in attempts to solve wrongdoing.

“For example, many times people that are paroled out of robberies or shootings come out of prison/jail and commit crimes again; they will look at unsolved crime in an area and see if some of the career criminals might be connected,” Vaswani said. “I generally give them locations based on what I read in reports, crime data, emails, and community feedback.” 

Undercover officers look for people who are on probation or parole for crimes related to robbery, home or auto burglaries. Most undercover officers are familiar with parolees/probationers and gang members in the area; if they see them on the street, especially if they’re looking into a car, the officers will watch them to see if they recommit a crime.

“We have people that usually carry guns or have ties to gangs that rob people on the street or break into cars/homes,” Vaswani said. “Many times we get them with guns/stolen property again, based on a probation contact or parole contact. California Department of Corrections and Probation notifies us when a gang member or violent felon is released back. When some of these people are released, we will see an increase in shootings/homicides and violent crime. We try to reach out to them before when we see them out on the street and let them know that we are aware they are out. CDC and many of the nonprofits/City services will also try to get these folks jobs, training, and education should they need that to be successful and not return to violence. Many of the patrol and undercover officers have a good relationship with the ‘regulars’ that get arrested a lot; we know their families, kids, girlfriends/boyfriends, where they hang out, and who their friends are.”

Recently, two undercover officers spotted a probationer carrying a shopping bag, which was being used to carry loot taken from automobile burglaries. When the police made contact, the suspect began to fight, revealing that he had a gun.  He was arrested.

“We have good success with residents keeping their eyes open to noticing suspicious people when they go out walking their dog or going for a run,” Vaswani said. “They will call us and tell us that a person is casing a car, or sometimes even that a person is inside a car with a broken window.”  Occasionally residents provide videos or photographs of unusual activities, which can be used by the police to develop a case.

Break-ins tend to rise between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, with concomitant increases in police patrols.  “Even if an item is not valuable, but it looks valuable, a car will be broken into,” Vaswani said. “The residents are passionate about the neighborhood.  They take it personally if something bad happens. And I also take is very personally when residents in my district are victimized.”