Recap of Public Safety Discussion at Reset SF Launch Event on 9/25/10

Mary Jung's picture

Laura Graham and I had the opportunity to facilitate the Public Safety Discussion Group last Saturday.  Since she was the lead and I was the scribe, I promised I would post our notes and outcomes from this session so others could read our summaries and post comments and/or edits. 

I thought Public Safety (PS) would be a fairly black and white topic - dealing with disaster preparedness, adequate budgets to fund our safety forces, perhaps some discussion on foot patrols, and maybe civil sidewalks.  Our big takeaway from the group was that PS cannot be adequately addressed without looking at the City budget and funding the appropriate programs.  For example, we can't be physically safe if violence-prone mentally ill people don't get the help they need, or the tools aren't available to get them off the streets.

We had a diverse group of people - from a fireman to a retired parole officer to a psychologist and many neighborhood residents  - which led to a spirited discussion on PS.  There were definitely two points of view:  (1) That there are not enough services and the homeless and mentally ill shouldn't be criminalized, and (2) if you're going to hurt others, whether you are mentally ill or not, you need to be put in a situation where you can't harm others.  And while this latter opinion might not be the perfect solution, it was considered a better alternative than letting them harm others. 

There was a lot of discussion about Laura's law.  It was also agreed this wouldn't be the great save-all some think it will be, but it does provide another tool to be used when appropriate.  The group thought it was more important to fund current laws so we didn't need new ones, and that the City needed to do a better job on solutions; i.e., a third option - such as non-correctional options (community justice courts, collaborative courts, etc.) 

And last, the City's budget is in trouble and a lot of money is used to provide services for nonresidents.  While the group is sympathetic to them, many felt that it was a burden on the budget and didn't allow good treatment for residents. 

There was a lot more detail, which I could provide later, but this was the basic summary. 

Overall, it was an insightful morning and a good way to spend a Saturday morning. 

oceansfiveo's picture

Public Safety

Public Safety should be the City's "Third Rail" that is mandated to be funded and increased by formula based on Per Capita & CPI. The budgets for City/County police, fire, sheriffs, DPW, and disaster preparedness should never be reduced or offset to fund another program. Why? If there are cuts in funding in any of these areas, personnel would then be reduced. A reduction in personnel to aid in a safety issues therefore increases destruction, harm, hazard or even death of viable working and tax paying citizens and property. Which in turn increases costs in department overtime as well as higher insurance rates and personnel damages. Once a baseline in mandatory services is established and stabilized, then other services such as homeless persons may be addressed.

Mary Jung's picture

Core Services

Agreed.  There is too little emphasis on maintaining core services and too much talk about all the add-ons.  The extras are great - when we can afford them.  If we focus on the extras and don't take care of the core services, we won't have a livable city that people will want to stay in.  When did core services become an extravagance? 

oceansfiveo's picture

Public Safety/ Core Services

Thank you for your reply. Did you realize, that in Sacramento the "third rail" issue that every politician will not touch is Prop. 13, Howard Jarvis property tax.? It is more or less sacrosanct that "no body dare touch this issue."  I would think after the last few years of California, the 8th largest economy in the world, suddenly sinking to lower levels in infrastructure, public safety, education, you name it...that someone would have the balls to re-prioritize everybody's thinking. Public safety should be that "third rail." We deserve no less.

Fog City Guide's picture

My Dream for SF's Disaster Preparedness

I've been working with the Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams since 1993. I've been working with SF SAFE and the PD since 2005 or 2006 - I can't remember when I joined the Board of SAFE. I know that the Fire Department has trained over 15,000 citizens to be NERTs. I know that there are Neighborhood Watch groups in most neighborhoods of the City. That means there are tens of thousands of San Francisco citizens who have all raised their hands and been trained to either organize with their neighbors to look out for each other and to be there for each other when we experience the next big earthquake.

I want to see all of them working together, communicating, sharing resources and experiences, coordinating efforts between the City and neighborhood merchants, identifying danger areas or buildings and knowing which folks in every neighborhood that will need someone to check on them.

A case in point on how this is going. There is an initiative under way from the City Administrators office called the Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN). It is working with the Department of Emergency Management (DEM). The City has determined that DEM will be the managing agency when our quake happens. The DEM doesn't' have thousands of trained citizens but the Fire Department does. DEM is going about setting up libraries as the neighborhood communication and response hub but NERT has had identified "staging areas" for years. Getting coordination to happen has taken us a few years and it is only coming about because involved citizens demand it.

It is not anywhere near seamless yet and there are more layers than there probably needs to be. The Planning Department has a draft safety element that few have seen. The Board of Supervisors have recently held meeting to determine what actions they will need to take - in reality the executive branch assumes total command so the legislative can help but they will not lead. (Imaging the 11 supervisors and the Mayor all trying to lead in a disaster scenario!)

Here is my dream - earthquake happens - chaos is upon us - leadership is trying to get control of the forces at their commands - meanwhile we, all the citizens living in every neighborhood will be facing possible destruction of property all around us and sad to say maybe death will be before you. My dream and goal is that each and everyone of us will know what to do. We will know how to behave so that we can stay away from getting hurt - you can't help anyone else if you are hurt. That each of will know some of the people around us because we've at least talked before and maybe we've actually sat and talked about what to do when. Each will know the value of leadership and how to band together into teams to go and help those who are hurt or trapped. Know where to go with the injured and how to discern which injuries are life threatening. Know where to get medical supplies, excavation tools or better yet have them cached in storage containers in every neighborhood. Fire fighting methods, tools and water. Knowledge of what to walk away from - even if it's a badly injured person so that you can do the most good for the greatest number of folks. Have supplies to maintain yourself and your family for a week. (Katrina showed that 72 hours won't be long enough to get services back).

After the emergent situation is over, the fires are out, the injured are being treated and you need to get your life back on track comes the really hard work. Now is when your neighborhood needs to be organized and to work in a cohesive fashion. Working together is the only way to get your neighborhood restarted or rebuilt. The school, the playgrounds, parks, stores and other services all will need help getting back up and running and that will take much work and organization. This is the work of the NEN. Look at the initiative and see how they can help you start to build a safer neighborhood and a neighborhood leadership structure that will get each of us through our next natural or man-made disaster.

Kate Maeder's picture

Disaster Preparedness - a must

Fog City,

You're so right. When the next earthquake strikes - sooner than we think, we need to be fully prepared. We need to plan and to educate fellow San Franciscans so that we're all calm, confident and ready. But how do we make this a priority when everything else grabs our attention? Unemployment, education, homelessness and so much more. 

Sure, the city needs to be able to multitask, but I feel as though our available economic resources are scant already. What's your idea for catching the attention of SF?

oceansfiveo's picture

Public Safety/Core Services

To all:

Fog City presents an interesting viewpoint albeit rather naive at best. Why am I living, working and paying all these taxes in one of the most, if not most expensive cities to live in the country if I am only to expect self-service a la carte emergency/core services? To suggest that I prepare a DIY contingency for emergencies beyond my immediate household is to suggest I draw my Borax wagons around my address and prepare to defend myself against all enemies foreign or domestic. What Fog City presents is a notion of nothing more than "You DON'T get what you pay for." Tax dollars going to other political pet projects or to CYA appropriations. What needs to be encouraged from our city officials is to prioritize our core services and fund accordingly. Nothing more, nothing less.

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137