Under its Court Watch program Stop Crime SF (SCSF) fields volunteers to attend burglary trials to support victims and demonstrate to judges and prosecutors that residents are concerned about wrongdoings, with the goal of making them less inclined to drop charges or reduce sentences. It also maintains a blog that advocates for more stringent approaches to crime prevention, such as state legislation twice proposed by State Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, to enable broken windows to constitute evidence of a vehicle break-in. Currently, there must be proof that the car had been locked to prosecute a suspect for burglary.
“We are a 500-plus membership organization with nine neighborhood/community affiliates last I checked,” said Frank Noto, president. “A majority of our board are people of color, most are women, but only two are from the east side of the City, so we want to reach out to eastside groups. We are interested in making common cause with any individuals or community groups that want to help reduce crime in San Francisco.”
The Balboa Terrace, Golden Gate Heights, and West Portal neighborhood associations, among others, have partnered with Stop Crime SF, enabling them to appoint members to the organization’s advisory board.
“We are trying to expand into the eastern neighborhoods of San Francisco,” said Nancy Tung, a SCSF board member and South-of-Market resident. “We are a completely volunteer-based organization, so being able to reach other neighborhood groups depends greatly on the schedules of our board members. We do not currently have any affiliated groups in SoMa.”
Tung and fellow Stop Crime SF board member and Potrero Hill resident, Libby Dodd, along with Noto, have invited the Dogpatch Neighborhood and Potrero Boosters associations to partner with them. Neither organization has elected to join the effort.
“Our membership from east side neighborhoods lags behind the other side of town,” observed Dodd. “I think this is because founders of Stop Crime SF already have deep affiliations with their neighborhood associations, so it has been easy to recruit volunteers for Court Watch. After decades of low crime, in 2015, longtime residents in Golden Gate Heights could virtually look out their windows and see teams of criminals smashing windows of parked cars and grabbing property while tourists were climbing the famous mosaic stairs. A lot of people in Potrero Hill are young working families, they do not have time during business hours to attend Court Watch. I believe Potrero Hill is suffering from auto burglaries, primarily in commercial corridors where customers—many of them tourists—come to enjoy our views and restaurants. Of course, bicycle theft, mobile bike chop shops, and package theft is also rampant. In my immediate neighborhood we have experienced a few scary ‘hot’ break-ins, but thankfully there has been no injuries and no indication these are carried out by organized gangs.”
“Property crime remains a significant concern. Package thefts, car break-ins, and other crimes of opportunity,” concurred J. R. Eppler, Boosters president. “Our neighborhood is split across three police station precincts: Bayview, Mission and Southern. The captains of those stations work hard to collaborate, but it’s inherently more difficult to address issues across boundary lines. Caltrans also needs to become a better landlord: too much of their land in our neighborhood creates blight and provides the environment for criminal activity.”
Dodd became involved with Stop Crime SF after serving on the 2015-2016 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, which educated her about the role the judiciary plays in the criminal justice system.
“My key contribution thus far in SCSF has been to create a manual for members who volunteer to attend trials as the ‘voice of community,’” Dodd explained. “It’s important that judges know real people care about the corrosive effects of a crime wave on their lives, even if it isn’t their car, home, or business that was burglarized. It is important that victims know their fellow citizens have got their back. We gather data from our court watchers in hopes we can spot trends that signal the courts may not be taking a balanced view in sentencing of repeat offenders. Although Court Watch is SCSF’s signature program, we also advocate for legislative issues that we feel directly impact the City’s ability to curb serial crime. With upcoming elections, we plan to sponsor various DA candidate forums. We hope to raise interest in Potrero Hill this year by meeting with neighborhood associations and the Police Community Advisory Board for the Bayview Station. As a grassroots group running solely on volunteers, we have no paid staff, so we have not had a chance to do as much outreach as needed.”