S.F. mayor backs measure to stiffen retail theft penalties

SAN FRANCISCO — Democratic Mayors London Breed of San Francisco and Matt Mahan of San Jose have endorsed a tough-on-crime ballot measure to reform Proposition 47, a controversial initiative that reduced some drug and theft felonies to misdemeanors.

The measure — called the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, Retail Theft Reduction Act — would change the 2014 law by increasing penalties for fentanyl dealers and repeat organized retail theft rings, as well as providing mandatory treatment for drug users.

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“In San Francisco, we are making progress on property crimes, but the challenges we are facing related to fentanyl and organized retail theft require real change to our state laws,” Breed said. “I fully support this measure and know it will make a meaningful difference for cities across California.”

These endorsements come in the weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters during his January budget presentation that altering Proposition 47 would not curtail the wave of high-profile retail thefts in the state. The Newsom administration instead has proposed six ways lawmakers can expand criminal penalties for organized theft without bringing the issue back to voters. Newsom agreed that tougher enforcement is needed and has called for more arrests in these cases.

Newsom also recently assigned 120 California Highway Patrol officers to combat crime in Oakland.

Proposition 47, supported by Newsom and approved by voters, reclassified some felony drug and theft offenses as misdemeanors and raised from $400 to $950 the amount for which theft can be prosecuted as a felony. Newsom often points out that some of the nation’s most conservative states, including Texas, have a higher threshold for felony charges.

Breed’s announcement comes as she runs for reelection and faces low approval ratings.

In 2022, San Francisco had the highest rate of property theft among all California cities, according to data from the Public Policy Institute of California, a leading nonpartisan group that researches crime trends and policies. Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Mateo also experienced an increase. However, according to the mayor’s office, property crimes in the city were lower than any period in the last 10 years, except for 2020. This year, in the first three weeks of January, property crime is reportedly down 41%.

Mahan told The Times in a phone interview that he was less aware of the governor’s plans and instead was more focused on the results of this bipartisan effort.

“The Legislature will be limited as far as what they can do without the voters,” Mahan said.

He cautioned that if Proposition 47 isn’t reformed now, there might be future support to repeal it altogether, which he said “would be a mistake.” Mahan said he witnessed firsthand a smash-and-grab theft at a grocery store.

“That feeling of no accountability is harmful to our society,” he said.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Have two S.F. judges released dangerous criminals? Case records tell a more complex story

A group called Stop Crime Action says San Francisco Superior Court Judges Michael Begert and Patrick Thompson are soft on crime. The group says both judges have freed dangerous defendants while they were awaiting trial — but records of their cases appear to tell a somewhat different story.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The judges’ records are under scrutiny because both face election challenges in March. Most Superior Court judges are automatically elected to new six-year terms because they have no challengers, which was the case with Begert in 2018. 

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But while San Francisco’s rate of violent crime has been steadily declining, property crime rates, drug use and public fears are high, and their potency as a political issue was displayed in the 2022 recall of left-leaning District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Stop Crime Action, founded by anti-crime activist Frank Noto with financial assistance from billionaire William Oberndorf, was active in Boudin’s recall and now is looking to change the composition of San Francisco’s courts. 

An affiliated group, Stop Crime SF, also led by Noto, recruited volunteers to watch judges’ handling of criminal cases. The group then issued “report cards” giving F grades to Begert and Thompson, quoting unnamed observers who called them arrogant, inept and biased. In the election campaign, Stop Crime Action is focusing on specific cases.

In one case, the group says, Begert, while presiding over San Francisco’s Drug Treatment Court, “repeatedly released a convicted sex offender,” Andrew Boddy, who was then accused of five additional crimes, after which Begert freed the defendant again.

Court records of the defendant provide a different picture. Begert described Boddy as “a highly traumatized, homeless, transgender woman with substance abuse and mental health challenges.” Boddy’s public defender said she uses feminine pronouns and the name Anna Boddy. Stop Crime Action identified Boddy by the male name listed in the court docket.

It’s true that Begert has released Boddy, but the judge says prosecutors never objected.

“Every time she returned to my court, it was with the agreement of the District Attorney’s Office,” Begert told the Chronicle.

As court records reflect, Boddy pleaded guilty to a burglary charge in January 2023 and, under a plea agreement with prosecutors, was returned to Drug Court for a medical referral. Begert said Boddy had some success in treatment but remained homeless and was “repeatedly assaulted on the streets.” When she was charged with another crime in May, he returned her case to criminal court.

Nevertheless, said Noto, Boddy had a record of sex crimes and violence before being initially released by Begert. “That is still 100% on Judge Begert regardless of what excuses he tries to make,” Noto said.

In another case, Stop Crime Action said Begert had referred a burglary defendant, Sebastian Mendez, to a treatment program, and released him from custody, even though he had dropped out of the program months earlier after a referral by another judge.

That is untrue, Begert said. He said he returned Mendez to criminal court after the defendant refused the recommended treatment, and that he remains in custody. Records kept by the sheriff’s office confirm that Mendez is in jail.

Such disputes are plentiful in the campaigns against Begert and Thompson, who is also being challenged for a new six-year term. 

In Thompson’s case, Noto’s organization has also accused the judge of returning dangerous defendants to the streets

In one case, Stop Crime Action said, the judge freed an accused and previously convicted drug dealer, Erik Ramos Diaz, without bail last year while awaiting trial, and Diaz fled after disconnecting his monitoring device. But Thompson said the District Attorney’s Office did not oppose the release, and he has issued a warrant for Diaz’s arrest. 

The judge provided a transcript of a hearing in his court last June in which he proposed to release Diaz and asked Deputy District Attorney Yuri Chornobil if he objected.

“Your Honor, no new charges have been filed,” Chornobil replied. “And given that, the People would be — would consent to release with the prior release conditions that Your Honor imposed.”

Similarly, Noto’s organization cited Thompson’s decision to release Darbin Hernon without bail after he was charged with drug crimes. Hernon failed to appear for a hearing two weeks later.

That’s true, Thompson said, but it fails to mention that Hernon’s prosecutors told him “on multiple occasions that they did not object to release” on any of the charges the judge had required him to face.

Thompson cited an email he received last July from Hernon’s public defender, Stephen Olmo, who said he had spoken to the prosecutor about releasing Hernon without bail. Olmo said the prosecutor told him he “will agree (because) Mr. Hernon has a U.S. Marshal’s hold on him — that means prosecution” by the federal government.

Noto also cited Thompson’s decision last July to release Joshua Vicente Lopez without bail after he was charged with drug dealing. Two months later, Noto said, police arrested Lopez again, allegedly with fentanyl and other drugs.

Thompson said the prosecutor, after asking to hold Lopez without bail, sought to delay his  hearing beyond the legal deadline. “Under state law, my only options were to dismiss the case or release the defendant,” the judge said. “The district attorney did not object to release. After he failed to appear, I issued a bench warrant for his arrest.”

Those were cases cited in the Stop Crime SF “report card” and in the campaign by Noto’s group against the two judges.

While Stop Crime Action is accusing both judges of coddling criminals, their election opponents have said little about the incumbents’ records.

“Let’s send a message to our court: We need our streets safe,” Begert’s challenger, Albert “Chip” Zecher, a business law attorney, said at a candidates’ debate in December. He did not criticize Begert or mention any of his cases.

Likewise, Deputy District Attorney Jean Myungjin Roland, Thompson’s opponent, did not refer to the judge’s record, but told the debate audience that “you can vote to keep the status quo, or you can vote for change for public safety.”

The Bar Association of San Francisco sought to question the two challengers about their qualifications and character. The association announced Jan. 29 that it had rated both Begert and Thompson, who had answered those questions, as “well-qualified” but could not evaluate Zecher or Roland because they had not responded. The Chronicle asked their campaigns about their lack of response but got no replies.

In short, the challengers are running quiet campaigns that promote their own credentials, while Stop Crime Action attacks the incumbents.

Begert, a former business lawyer and chairman of the Asian American Justice Center, was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. He does not handle criminal cases but runs San Francisco’s Drug Court, other treatment-referral courts and the CARE Court — Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment — established by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers in an effort to remove mentally ill people from the streets and place them in treatment.

Thompson was appointed by Newsom in 2022 after 30 years of law practice with private firms and is a former chairman of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which seeks to “dismantle systems of oppression and racism.” He conducts preliminary hearings, which determine whether a criminal defendant will go to trial or should be released.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

California made it legal for DACA immigrants to work as police. Which departments are hiring them?

Dressed in a pristine dark blue uniform, Ernesto Moron raised his right hand and swore to defend the constitution of a state he wasn’t born in but that he has called home for more than two decades. 

Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

That December afternoon, the 26-year-old Mexican-born man became the first officer hired by the UC Davis Police Department under a 1-year-old California law that repealed the U.S. citizenship requirement to become a peace officer in the state.

“I was always told to be afraid of police officers because I would get deported,” Moron recently told CalMatters. “Now I want to help this community and help other people that are in my same shoes.” 

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Before  the law took effect, California, like most states, had required its peace officers to be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who have applied for citizenship. 

The state law, SB 960, makes applicants with federal work authorization eligible to become officers. Supporters said the new law would make an effective recruiting tool at a time of persistent patrol officer shortages and declining staff levels. They said if immigrants were encouraged to apply, law enforcement agencies could gain more diverse, multilingual officers. 

Sen. Nancy Skinner, the Democrat from Oakland who sponsored the law, called the citizenship rule archaic in a statement and said the new law could “improve the current relationship between law enforcement and communities of color by increasing the visibility and representation of people from the neighborhood.” 

But an informal CalMatters poll of the largest local and state police departments in California suggests many have been slow to hire the newly eligible immigrants. Moron is one of about a dozen California law officers who got jobs through the law, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2023. 

“Our police officers are facing a workforce shortage, as other professions are,” Skinner said. “We need to have people that want to serve in these public safety roles. So we want to eliminate any unreasonable barriers for people from being able to serve.”

DACA and the struggle to hire

California cities are struggling to hire enough officers, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Public Policy Institute of California this month reported the number of patrol officers per 100,000 people is at its lowest point since at least 1991. Though the steepest declines occurred during the Great Recession from 2007 and 2009, staffing levels still have not recovered. 

In 2022 alone, the state commission that certifies newly trained officers issued 2,424 basic certifications, down 53% from 2020 when it awarded 4,530 certifications. 

UC Davis Police Chief Joe Farrow swore Moron in as a law enforcement officer, after months of advocating for him and others like him.

Farrow, before joining the university police in 2017, had served as commissioner of the California Highway Patrol for 10 years. Soon after starting at UC Davis, he spoke with students there about potential careers in law enforcement and realized many couldn’t be hired as officers because they were undocumented immigrants. 

Most were beneficiaries of a federal program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which since 2012 has protected from deportation more than half a million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. 

Farrow saw in Moron a hope for a future where police agencies recruit new officers from among immigrant communities, he said. 

“They are part of our community,” Farrow said. “They go to school here, they learn here, they teach here, so having undocumented police officers was the next step into completing the idea of representing our community.”

Eliminating barriers

Like Moron, Farrow was born overseas. The former commissioner of the largest state police agency in the country spent his first decade of life in Japan, before settling with his family in Pacific Grove, a coastal city in Monterey County. 

Years later, in 2020, Farrow met Moron at UC Davis, where Moron was working as a security manager. 

About half of UC Davis’ 48 sworn officers are former UC students, Farrow said, but it’s not uncommon for other employees to later be sworn in as officers, especially in small police forces. 

As a DACA recipient, Moron is legally authorized to work in the U.S. However he was ineligible to become a police officer in California.

“Ernesto has lived here over 20 years, so the question was: why would we prevent him from doing what he wants to do?” Farrow said. 

Though the Golden State is home to the country’s largest immigrant population, for years it barred them from many careers because professional licenses required Social Security numbers. 

Then new laws took effect in 2014 allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain professional licenses. Today they can be lawyers, doctors, nurses and other licensed professionals.

It took nearly a decade longer for California to join states like Colorado and Illinois, which allow DACA beneficiaries to put on a badge. 

“I found it highly ironic that you can be a U.S. military police officer without being a U.S. citizen. So you can serve in our armed forces and, in effect, be the law enforcement for our armed forces,” Skinner said. “And yet, California had a rule that you could not be a police officer.”

Early opposition

Though most state legislators ultimately approved the bill, there was early opposition. At an Assembly Public Safety hearing in June 2022, Skinner introduced Farrow and Moron to testify for the bill

“During my senior year I attended the UC Davis Police Academy and I distinguished myself in several disciplines,” Moron said as he sat next to Farrow. “Typically top candidates from the academy are evaluated for sworn police positions, and I believe UC Davis (police department) had every intention to hire me, but current law prohibits it. 

“I passed the same police background check that sworn officers must pass to get the position I am today. This bill will allow me and countless others the opportunity to fulfill my dream of serving the communities where I was raised.” 

Skinner stressed at the hearing that the bill would not allow undocumented immigrants who lack work authorization to be hired as peace officers. 

Nevertheless several lawmakers opposed the bill, including Assemblymember Tom Lackey, a Republican from Palmdale and a former California Highway Patrol background investigator.

“California law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities to determine the criminal background of foreign nationals, which the federal government does prior to granting citizenship that enables service as a peace officer in most agencies,” Lackey told CalMatters in a statement. 

“Additionally, someone who is not legally in the U.S. cannot legally possess a firearm, which is an essential tool for officers,” he said.

A firearms holdup?

The Sacramento Police Department, which had more than 60 sworn officer positions to fill as of December 2023, said it hasn’t hired anyone under the new law, in part because of firearm safety concerns. 

“There have been background issues and additional legal hoops that prevented them from being hired as peace officers. For example, there is a requirement to be a citizen to possess a firearm,” the Sacramento Police Department said in a statement.

But other law enforcement agencies disagree, saying DACA candidates are legally allowed to carry weapons for their job.

The Los Angeles Police Department recently announced a policy memorializing the right of DACA recipients to be employed as officers. It has hired 10 DACA recipients as officers in a force of 8,960 sworn officers. The department was funded for 9,300 positions, officials said.

“Los Angeles Police Department officers who are in the U.S. pursuant to DACA have the authority to possess a firearm for use in the performance of their official duties or other law enforcement purposes,” said Lizabeth Rhodes, senior legal and policy advisor to the chief of police, during a December Los Angeles Police Commission meeting

Rhodes added that while the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 established that “illegal aliens” were forbidden to possess firearms, the law contained exceptions, including cases where the firearm or ammunition is issued by a state or department. 

Capt. Robin Petillo, in LAPD’s recruitment and employment division, confirmed that the newly minted officers who are DACA recipients will possess department-issued firearms on and off duty. 

Safety concern

One of law enforcement’s main lobbying entities has cast doubt on the new law’s prospects. 

“While some departments have adjusted their policies to allow DACA recipients to possess their department-issued firearms while off duty, this is not the case with most departments and therefore poses a serious safety issue for noncitizen officers,” said Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, representing organizations involving 80,000 public safety workers. 

Some of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies — San Francisco, Oakland, Bakersfield, Stockton, Riverside and Long Beach — said they have hired no officers under the new law, despite having dozens of unfilled positions. 

Riverside Police is “in the process of developing a policy addressing some of the concerns” raised in opposition to SB 960, said Officer Ryan Railsback. As of Jan. 4, the department had more than 60 sworn officer positions to fill. 

San Jose and San Diego police departments did not respond to CalMatters’ questions about DACA recipients, and the San Francisco police department, which officially endorsed SB 960 shortly after it went into effect, recently did not provide numbers of sworn officers and officer positions. 

The California Highway Patrol said it has not hired DACA recipients. As of Dec. 24, the state agency had 5,444 sworn officers and was authorized for 6,406 positions.

Competency and character

Farrow, at UC Davis, said he was not surprised that there is opposition from critics who raised concerns about vetting noncitizens.

“People associate it with what they see on TV,” Farrow said. “They associate this crowded border and people climbing over the wall to get into this country and the next day we hire them as a police officer. We would never do that.

“You don’t have to show proof of citizenship — that’s it. If you have a legal work permit by the federal government, then you’re subject to a complete background check,” he said, “the same as I went through to become a police officer.” 

In order to receive DACA status, petitioners must have been under the age of 31 as of June 2012 and have arrived in the U.S. before reaching their 16th birthday. They also must lack any serious criminal records. 

Though DACA recipients receive work authorization, they don’t have a path to permanent legal status or citizenship. Moron and hundreds of thousands of other DACA enrollees must renew their DACA status every two years.

But the program is enmeshed in a years-long legal battle over its future.

Last year, at the request of Republican led-states, a federal judge in Texas declared the DACA immigration program unlawful. While the judge didn’t order the termination of DACA, the program cannot receive new applicants. 

And if a DACA recipient loses their protected status, they’d likely lose eligibility to work as a police officer, said Marc Reina, an LAPD deputy chief, at a December police commission meeting.

Farrow said he decided to hire and get Moron trained as an officer because of his character and competency. 

“Competency is your training, your education, your background —military, non-military — your school,” Farrow said. “The character is who you are — are you honest, are you giving? I can train the competency but can’t train the character.”

Moron’s long-sought dream finally materialized when Farrow handed him a badge at that small swearing-in ceremony at the UC Davis police department. The kid who was told to be afraid of police because he could get deported gained the authority to protect the communities that took him in as a young immigrant.

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‘Pure fear’: Violent crime in Oakland rose 21% last year. Residents worry it will define the city

Oakland police Sgt. Sean Hall addressed the quiet, watchful crowd gathered at a church near Lake Merritt on a recent Wednesday evening. Eyes sweeping the audience, Hall flashed an unassuming smile.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle

He was there to outline the department’s new patrol strategy to Grand Lake Neighbors, a group that meets monthly to discuss everything from street safety to parking enforcement. The sergeant’s mission: present a friendly face and try to instill optimism at a moment when crime is surging. 

Reports of violent incidents rose 21% last year compared to 2022, while robberies climbed 38% and burglaries ticked up 23%. For the second consecutive year, the city logged 120 homicides. Fear seemed to ripple through every neighborhood — including Grand Lake, with its leafy sidewalks and buzzy shopping corridors. 

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Already in 2024, crime has shaped Oakland politics, fueling  recall campaigns and calls for more police officers. City leaders are mired in a protracted and often divisive search for a new police chief, which has dragged on for nearly a year. Feelings of fatigue, desperation and outrage have reached a fever pitch. 

“It’s pure fear,” said Father Jayson Landeza, the pastor of St. Benedict Catholic Church in East Oakland, and a chaplain with the Police Department.

“You’re always walking around with your head alert,” Landeza continued. “Something as basic as emptying my garbage – the forty steps it takes to walk from my rectory to the bin. I’m fearful for my life. Drawing money from an ATM, you’re looking at the mirrors thinking, ‘Who is around me?  Who is behind me?’”

This month, Landeza presided over the funeral service for Officer Tuan Le,who was shot and killed on Dec. 29. while responding to a burglary at a cannabis dispensary. Le’s shocking death, at the end of a turbulent year, only intensified residents’ anxiety.

Lake Merritt, enshrined as a jewel of Oakland, was the site of an alarming crime scene last year, when cleaning crews found a suitcase floating in the water with a man’s body stuffed inside. Police classified the case as a homicide and are searching for a suspect.

“We’re all affected,” said Ken Katz, who attended the Grand Lake Neighbors meeting and listened intently to Hall’s presentation. A 50-year resident, Katz wrinkled his brow as he walked to the parking lot after the meeting. He said he’s worried about merchants suffering on Lakeshore Avenue, “in large part due to the auto burglaries” that have made people afraid to venture out.

Dean Yabuki, pointed to a bandage on his left hand — a slash wound, Yabuki said, from when he confronted a knife-wielding burglar in his home. Eileen Morentz, who also lives in the area, said that last month she shooed a car burglar from a Starbucks lot on Lake Park Avenue. When Morentz saw the man breaking windows and reaching into the trunk of a vehicle, she set off an alarm button on her key fob to scare him off.

Public safety has long been a raw topic in Oakland. Now it seems to overshadow other issues. Last year, gunfire rattled through the flatlands below Interstate 580 in East Oakland, where homicides increased. Police areas Five and Six, which encompass the flatlands, saw 55 slayings between them — up from 44 in 2022.

Downtown, many businesses no longer accept cash, fearing it makes them more vulnerable to robberies. Cyclists riding through the bucolic trails of the Oakland Hills have fallen victim to armed bike-jackings. 

“I wonder if there is an individual in the city of Oakland who hasn’t experienced crime in one way or another,” said Leonor Godinez, an organizer with the group Faith in Action East Bay. 

Godinez counts herself among last year’s victims. Thieves have smashed her car windows on three occasions. Driving down Grand Avenue last May, she crashed into a car that made an abrupt U-turn, apparently fleeing a crime. Moments after the collision, two men jumped out of the other vehicle and ran away, Godinez recalled.

Frustration over crime has caused political fallout in City Hall and the top law enforcement office in Alameda County, galvanizing recall efforts against Mayor Sheng Thao, and District Attorney Pamela Price. Their supporters push back, noting that Oakland’s violence dates back to previous administrations, and that no individual office-holder has the power to control fluctuations in crime.

“For the past three years Oakland has had over 100 murders each year, so for the recall proponents to blame the newly elected DA of Alameda County for the increase in violent crime is flat out wrong and ludicrous,” said William Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the “Protect the Win” campaign to defend Price.

Carl Chan, a safety advocate in Oakland’s Chinatown and spokesperson for the recall effort against Price, said voters have “lost confidence in the legal system.” While the numbers show a spike in violence, they don’t tell the whole story, Chan said. He’s spoken with residents who claim to be so overwhelmed that they no longer report crime, having no faith it will be prosecuted. Price, a progressive, has sought to reduce incarceration — a stance that led some opponents to accuse her of enabling violent offenders.

Thao responded to her critics with a statement that emphasized her love for Oakland, and for her office.

“I have the best job in the world,” she said. “That’s because every day I have a chance to fight for a safer, more affordable, and more prosperous Oakland.” In other statements, she’s identified safety as a top priority.

This month, the Oakland Police Department rolled out a new strategy to quell the chaos. Top department officials dismantled a Violent Crime Operations Center that former chief LeRonne Armstrong formed in 2021, aiming to centralize resources so that police could focus on Oakland’s most serious crimes: shootings and killings.

With the central unit dissolved, Thao pledged to reinvigorating the city’s widely-praised Operation Ceasefire program — an intervention model that uses data to identify people likely to commit or be victims of crime, offering them mentoring and job opportunities but also warning them that they and their associates will become a focus of police if they continue to cause trouble.

At the same time, the Police Department has spread officers into neighborhoods, reviving the street teams that existed before Armstrong consolidated them into one unit. Many residents favor this beat-patrol methodology, saying they like having visible, dedicated law enforcement.

Hall touted the new structure when he spoke at the Grand Lake Neighbors meeting, where residents packed a room next to the main sanctuary of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church. With their chairs arranged in a semicircle, participants glued their eyes to the sergeant in his dark blue uniform, tattoos snaking up his forearms. He described the benefits of patrolling a specific neighborhood or shopping district, day-in and day-out.

“You know what’s going on in your area,” Hall told the crowd. “You know all the people. You know the business owners. You’re seeing the same folks every day. You build a little more trust with the community.”

One corridor that police have focused on, as the department reorganized its teams, is the stretch of Hegenberger Road between Oakland Coliseum and the airport. It’s a hot spot for stick-ups and smash-and-grabs that escalated over the last two years, becoming so rampant that several businesses decided to shut down. Among them was a bustling In-N-Out Burger at 8300 Oakport St., set to close March 24. Police logged 452 criminal incidents in the vicinity of the restaurant last year.

Capt. Casey Johnson, who supervises police operations in Area Six — a large swath of East Oakland — deployed a four-officer overtime detail on Hegenberger Road last year. Additionally, the department assigned a walking officer on Hegenberger Road, and another on nearby 90th Avenue, which also links to the airport. Over the past few months, Johnson began convening with Hegenberger merchants and Councilmember Treva Reid, whose district includes the roadway.

“We all tried to work together to figure out how we can attack this problem, thinking outside the box with the resources we have,” Johnson said in an interview.

But even with the new walking patrols, customers who parked at the In-N-Out last week said they hadn’t observed a noticeable law enforcement presence.

“How many police have you seen here?” asked Stephanie Davis, waving a hand out the driver side window as she paused from biting a hamburger. “None.”

When the Grand Lake Neighbors meeting ended, attendees walked home in groups of two or three, hunching in the crisp January air. Katz followed them, contemplating Oakland’s predicament. He understands why some people refuse to go out at night, even in bustling Lake Merritt.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

San Francisco mass shooting: Five people shot, one fatally, in Tenderloin District

Five people were shot, and one man was killed, early Thursday morning in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, police said. 

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Yalonda M. James/The Chronicle

Police said they responded to an area near Turk and Hyde streets shortly after 2:30 a.m. where they found four men and one woman suffering from gunshot wounds.  

All five people were hospitalized with life-threatening injuries and one man was later pronounced dead. 

San Francisco police officials did not respond to requests for additional information about the shooting.

Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents the Tenderloin, said in a statement that his office was “horrified” at the shooting. 

“We are in touch with Tenderloin Station and hope this case will be solved as soon as possible. We extend our condolences to the deceased victim’s loved ones and wish for a speedy recovery for those who were injured,” Preston said in a statement.

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California homeless man found not guilty in attack with pipe on former San Francisco fire commissioner

Garret Doty’s public defender said he was acting in self-defense after Donald Carmignani sprayed him with bear spray

A homeless man who brutally attacked the former San Francisco fire commissioner was found not guilty on all charges Friday.

Garret Doty, the now 25-year-old homeless man who was accused of beating 54-year-old Donald Carmignani repeatedly over the head with a metal pipe on April 5, faced two counts of assault and one count of battery.

Deputy Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway argued that Doty acted out of “fear for his life and fought back to protect himself.”

In a press release, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said that Carmignani’s attorneys previously shared only “select video footage” from the incident-leaving out how the altercation began.

Doty’s defense attorneys argued that Carmignani instigated the altercation and sprayed the homeless man with bear spray and threatened to stab and kill him if he did not move his belongings. 

Carmignani previously said that three homeless people had set up an encampment near his mother’s front door, and she was afraid to leave her house in Marina District.

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said that after Carmignani allegedly threatened Doty, he decided to arm himself with a metal rod he found in a garbage bin.


The public defender’s said that 15 minutes later, Carmignai, “stood against a building and baited Doty to come closer” before spraying him with bear spray and ensuring the violent altercation.

A previous video released by Carmignani show Doty marching towards him with the metal rod and repeatedly hitting him.

Following the violent attack, Carmignani had 51 stitches, a fractured skull and a broken jaw.

Deputy Public Defenders Kleigh Hathaway said that it was “clear to her” that Doty was acting in self-defense against Carmignani.

“From the beginning, it was clear to me that Mr. Doty was acting in self-defense against Mr. Carmignani, who not only had the audacity to attack Mr. Doty with bear spray and then threatened to stab and kill Mr. Doty, but also presented himself as unwilling to back down from a fight that he had started,” said Hathaway. “Self-defense can be fierce because the brain goes into survival mode, and that fear response is sadly heightened for unhoused people, like Mr. Doty, who live in constant exposure.”

Click here to read the full article in FoxNews

S.F. surpasses deadliest year for drug overdoses. This is the grim toll

Fatal overdoses have risen at especially alarming rates among Latino and Black people, the latest figures show.

San Francisco has surpassed its deadliest year for accidental drug overdose deaths, a dreaded milestone reached a month before the new year and propelled by the prevalence of fentanyl.

In the first 11 months of 2023, San Francisco recorded 752 deaths, newly released data from the medical examiner’s office indicates. That’s 26 more than the previous peak of 726 deaths in all of 2020. Deaths recorded in December will drive this year’s total higher. 

Accidental overdose deaths have climbed in 2023 despite efforts by Mayor London Breed and Gov. Gavin Newsom to disrupt the drug trafficking market and crack down on dealers. The grim toll highlights the challenging task of reining in a crisis fueled by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and a drug that is also sometimes taken in conjunction with other drugs.

“The fentanyl crisis is a national crisis,” said Dr. Hillary Kunins, director of San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Services, during a Thursday news conference at the Department of Public Health. More than 80% of San Francisco’s accidental overdose deaths this year have involved the powerful substance, data shows.

“We are not alone, and I’d characterize our current period with some uncertainty,” Kunins said about whether the city would continue on an upward trajectory of overdose deaths.

In November, the most recent month for which data is available, 57 people died of drug overdoses, down from 65 in October. August was the city’s deadliest month on record, when 87 deaths were recorded, according to the data. The monthly numbers remain preliminary and sometimes increase or decrease slightly with further investigation by the city’s medical examiner.

recent examination of death reports by the Chronicle revealed that a rising number of people who fatally overdose in San Francisco have both fentanyl and a stimulant in their systems — a trend that some researchers are calling a “fourth wave” of the overdose epidemic.

Breed has called for a more “aggressive” approach for people struggling with fentanyl addiction and directed police to arrest more drug users and dealers. Critics have blasted the mayor for shifting toward a heavier reliance on policing to address what they argue is a public health crisis. 

Many of those same critics have pressed the mayor to open a supervised drug-use site in San Francisco — a model used in cities around the world and in New York to prevent overdose deaths — but the mayor is hesitant because it’s illegal under state and federal law. The city’s controversial Tenderloin Linkage Center, which provided such a space, was open for about a year before closing in December 2022.

Jhase D. White, who is living outside in the Tenderloin, said he started smoking fentanyl about two years ago. Since then, he said, he remembers experiencing at least one overdose, which a friend reversed using naloxone, commonly known by its commercial name Narcan. He also was arrested by San Francisco police for open drug use, but that didn’t stop him from using. 

White said he got hooked on opioids following several motorcycle crashes that left him in pain. After losing his job and apartment, he switched from painkillers to fentanyl, he said. 

“Ultimately, I just need a better quality of life and have some inspiration to live healthier,” he said, adding that he’d like to get clean but doesn’t know how. 

Earlier this year, Newsom brought in the California National Guard and state police to partner with San Francisco police to curb fentanyl trafficking downtown. 

In October, the governor and Breed launched a new task force to begin investigating opioid-linked deaths similarly to homicides. Then last month, Newsom proposed a ban on xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer turned street drug known as “tranq.” Xylazine has contributed to 30 accidental overdose deaths in San Francisco this year, according to the data from the medical examiner.

Fatal overdoses have risen at especially alarming rates among Latino and Black people, the data shows. Between January and November, 140 Hispanic people died from accidental drug overdoses, a 63% increase from the same period in 2022. About 230 Black people died from overdoses during the 2023 period, a 47% jump from 2022. The number of white people who died from overdoses rose 4% between the two periods, from about 270 to 280.

Facing a competitive reelection campaign next year, the mayor placed a measure on the March ballot to mandate drug screenings and treatment for San Francisco welfare recipients struggling with addiction.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Progressive Blames Capitalism: S.F. Supervisor Dean Preston blames capitalism for San Francisco’s homelessness and drug crises

Supervisor Dean Preston argues in a new documentary that capitalism is to blame for San Francisco’s ills including rampant drug use, homelessness and crime in the Tenderloin, prompting critics to question the logic of the supervisor, who’s the only Democratic Socialist on the board. 

The new investigative documentary by the British outlet UnHerd — founded by British Conservative Party political activist Tim Montgomerie — explores how San Francisco has failed to deal with its homelessness, drug use and crime problems and how the Tenderloin is ground zero for the city’s ills. 

Preston said in the film that the neighborhood’s problems are “absolutely the result of capitalism and what happens in capitalism to the people at the bottom rungs” of society. 

“The biggest driver of why folks are on the street is because they lost their jobs, income, or were evicted from their homes, usually for not being able to pay rent,” Preston told the UnHerd interviewer. “So, you have major landlords literally causing folks to lose their homes, and real estate speculation making it impossible for folks to find an affordable place to live.”

Critics of Preston point out that San Francisco’s housing crisis has helped drive the homelessness crisis by driving up rent. The city has been deemed the toughest place to build homes in California. They point out that San Francisco has some of the toughest renter protections in the country, making it more difficult for speculators to push out vulnerable tenants.  

Since the documentary aired, Preston’s face and quotes have been plastered over conservative outlets like Fox News, the Daily Mail and Daily Wire. Preston is up for reelection in 2024 and moderate groups are trying to unseat him, including the political action group GrowSF, which is running the “Dump Dean Preston” campaign. 

“Dean Preston votes against building more housing, votes against businesses, and he doesn’t care about crime that’s affecting our residents and our small business community,” the Dump Dean website says before listing “31 Reasons to Dump Dean Preston.”

Preston, who represents District 5 — which encompasses the Tenderloin, Japantown, Western Addition and Haight-Ashbury — has consistently criticized Mayor London Breed and other lawmakers for leaning on law enforcement to address open-air drug use and rampant drug dealing.

“The approach that we’ve taken is very inconsistent as a city — ramping up enforcement activities, whether it’s sweeps of homeless people or drug users, doing a series of arrests usually tied with some news cycle — and then, a few days later, a few weeks later, a few months later, the same thing happens,” Preston said in the film. “Arresting drug users has not made our city any safer. It’s actually made it less safe: it increases overdoses.” 

UnHerd has been criticized for its often conservative-leaning bias in the way it reports certain stories. Montgomerie has been a longtime conservative political commentator and worked in the administration of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He also has promoted far-right, antisemitic views in the past that misrepresent Marxist scholarship, according to the Independent, a United Kingdom news outlet.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Preston said it was “pretty clear” to him that UnHerd has a “strong bias” about him and his policies when he began the interview for the documentary. 

He said that homelessness is a “prime example” of what happens when “you turn the basic needs of human beings over to private interests,” which is “the heart of the approach under capitalism.”

Asked why other cities have been able to deal with problems that San Francisco can’t seem to address, Preston said cities across the U.S. are also facing affordability crises, and that San Francisco is not unique. 

He said a UCSF study that noted that 90% of unhoused people in California are from the state “shows how economic pressures, people losing income, and losing their jobs” is one of the “biggest drivers of homelessness in California.” He said people can’t exit homelessness because of “runaway housing prices” due to “very wealthy owners who continue to profit from our cities.”

In a more socialist society, Preston said, San Francisco would look like Vienna, Austria, where about 60% of people live in “social housing” — public housing and other limited-profit housing. If the state were to repeal the Costa-Hawkins act — which limits a city’s ability to impose controls on rent prices — and the Ellis Act — which allows landlords to give just-cause reasons for evicting tenants — and then invest in permanently affordable housing options, San Francisco could start to look more like Vienna, which has all but eliminated homelessness.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

This is the worst week for car break-ins in San Francisco at these hot spots

The scene unfolded in seconds, as Keith Paulsen watched — anger rising — from a car parked near San Francisco’s Alamo Square Park.

He saw a dark BMW roll up Steiner Street, a block north of the famed Painted Lady Victorians. A passenger jumped out and began casing the sidewalk, cupping his gloved hands to peer into car windows. After glancing into three cars the thief found his target: a backpack tossed enticingly on a seat. In one motion, he broke a window and grabbed it.

Paulsen twisted around to snap a cellphone photo when the BMW sped off, his shock curdling into revulsion. The theft seemed so brazen, carried out on a warm winter afternoon last year, on a hill packed with selfie-snapping tourists.

“He was so quick, in and out of that car with the backpack,” Paulsen recalled. “It only took 15 seconds.”

Like other sightseeing destinations in San Francisco, Alamo Square is a hot spot for car break-ins that spike around the week of Thanksgiving, according to a Chronicle analysis of San Francisco Police Department records from 2021 and 2022. During that week the average number of reports exceeds three a day, commensurate with nearby Hayes Valley.

“A lot of crimes have a seasonal aspect,” said Ernesto Lopez, a research specialist at the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank in Washington D.C. “Seasonal,” in this case, means a temporal shift — like a holiday that brings tourists and out-of-town relatives, and more opportunities for perpetrators. The value of fenced goods might also increase at certain times of year, Lopez said, providing more incentive for burglaries.

Absent a clear explanation for fluctuations in crime, residents tend to draw their own conclusion from anecdotes and folk wisdom. Paulsen and others believe thieves look for obvious signs of a rental car, scoping for new SUVs or stickers on the windshield. Others say perpetrators seek out motorists who forget to curb their wheels — the telltale sign of a visitor, since San Franciscans are usually careful to avoid an expensive parking ticket.

All of these theories are plausible, Lopez said, though he cautioned that car burglaries happen quickly, and generally aren’t that strategic. Maybe the perpetrators look for “one or two indicators” that a car is likely to have luggage, he said, but they don’t run through a checklist.

Police had few answers during a September Board of Supervisors committee hearing on the auto break-in epidemic, at which residents of Alamo Square lined up to vent their frustrations. Some said they’re left to console victims and sweep glass from the sidewalk.

“It’s really disturbing,” Taylor Lapeyre told the Chronicle. His living room window overlooks Alamo Square Park, providing a front row seat to the picturesque hillside — and the aftermath of many burglaries. Often, Lapeyre peers out to see a family in tears after all their possessions are stolen. He’s provided bandages for people who fall and scrape themselves, trying to chase down a car as it speeds off.

For years, officials tried to stave off car break-ins by discouraging residents and visitors from leaving things in their cars. Police and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency staff doled out “public awareness” pamphlets with a “Park smart” slogan — messaging that gave people the sense they were being gaslit, said Jason Jervis, media and communications chair of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association.

Holding people personally responsible to prevent burglaries amounts to “tacit acceptance,” Jervis said, as though city leaders had deemed the problem intractable and given up on enforcement. 

In Lapeyre’s observation, the theft prevention campaigns haven’t been that effective. Authorities posted signs that are “25 feet up on poles,” with faded lettering, he said, so tourists are oblivious to them. Desperate neighbors tried making their own versions, printing theft advisories that they laminated with saran wrap.

Recently, however, the city government became more proactive. In October Mayor London Breed met with the neighborhood association and “took the time to listen to members’ concerns about car break-ins and crime,” Jervis said. She told the association that city engineers are contemplating street design changes that could restrict vehicle access, and impede thieves from driving into — or quickly peeling out of — the neighborhood.

Capt. Jason Sawyer of San Francisco Police Department’s Northern Station also attended association meetings, and Jervis said he’s noticed more beat officers around Alamo Square Park during “high priority times,” including holidays. Jervis believes these measures have helped, and noted that police have also caught suspected burglars.

Last week, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins charged two people for allegedly playing critical roles in an auto burglary operation. Prosecutors linked one defendant to a smash-and-grab near Alamo Square, and say he later fenced items in the Mission District. He has pled not guilty.

But the coordinated response happened too late for Paulsen, who said that by the end of last year, he’d grown disenchanted with screeching getaway cars and the sight of broken glass. In January, he moved to Redwood City, saying he wanted to live somewhere safer.

He drove up to San Francisco for dinner six months later, at a restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf. It had a sign in the window warning patrons not to leave valuables in their cars — a statement that immediately put Paulsen on edge.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Here’s where APEC protests are happening in SF with more expected

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Protests are continuing in San Francisco as the APEC summit ramps up with the arrival of Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, along with other large events.

After hundreds marched down Market Street Tuesday, demanding an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, more protesters from multiple groups gathered Wednesday morning.

More protests are expected throughout the day and the rest of the week.

Protest at APEC CEO summit

A number of organizations protested the start of the APEC CEO summit Wednesday morning, attempting to shut it down.

The group met near the 5th Street BART station and marched to 5th Street and Mission, where hundreds were lining the streets near the Moscone Center.

The protesters were attempting to block APEC attendees from entering the event.

Protesters were locking arms and chanting “No to APEC.” City crews were also turning traffic around at the area.

SFPD officers had formed a human barricade to block 5th Street. As of 11 a.m., half of the officers had left the area, but there was still a line of officers blocking Mission Street.

MORE: What to do if you’re stopped by police at a rally

Heads of state and representatives from big companies such as Uber, GM, and Boeing were meeting to promote policies that favor free trade and corporate profit.

While some were protesting the CEO summit, many were also there continuing to call for a cease-fire in the Middle East.

The protest is part of a larger ‘No to APEC’ movement that has hosted events around the Bay Area in recent weeks.

Things mainly remained peaceful, but there were multiple tense moments where protesters booed and attempted to confront APEC attendees in suits. Protesters were swarming and even putting hands on delegates as they tried to walk in to the Moscone Center.

Police did step in to break up confrontations, but no arrests were made.

Other intersections around the Moscone Center may close down on Wednesday and the rest of the week due to other demonstrations.

Click here to read the full article on ABC 7