I believe government has no greater responsibility than to provide for the safety of its citizens. That encompasses all aspects of safety including: crime, water, food, roads, health, and the environment. We need a holistic view. Moreover, safety and compassion must go hand in hand. I worry that duality has been lost recently, and as Supervisor I want to help restore it.
As a kid growing up in the Western Addition, life was not easy, but our neighbors looked out for each other—especially the kids. You could not get away with anything because your friend’s mom or uncle or grandma would be on the lookout. This had a profound impact on my life because it showed me the power of a community that cares about its neighbors. We have 2,100 police in uniform in San Francisco, one for every 454 residents. We cannot expect them to patrol everything; we have to look out for each other, just as my neighbors did for me.
1. Create Opportunities
Most of our crime issues relate to a lack of opportunities for citizens on the fringe. We need to create opportunities, particularly for the young. After school, summer, arts, sports, and internship programs may seem expensive, but they are a valuable long-term investment. Setting children on the right track early saves us a tremendous amount of resources down the line. And I, for one, would rather invest in keeping our children out of prison than just continue building more prisons to hold them. I have done this for ten years. I know firsthand the power of opportunities to change people’s lives. I see it every day at the African American Art & Culture Complex where we use the arts to serve hundreds of kids annually and I know it makes a difference in the safety of our community.
2. Focus on Effective Rehabilitation
I am a firm believer that we must break the criminal cycle. The current way we deal with crime lacks a serious focus on rehabilitation. We need to embrace new and creative ways to help those who may have chosen the wrong path. We cannot just lock them up and hope they change, because they have clearly shown they cannot without proper help. We need to provide reentry programs to reduce offenders’ recidivism and opportunities for our children so we can prevent them from becoming offenders in the first place.
3. Forget Gang Injunctions
The gang injunction was a well-intentioned idea to make the streets safer, but in practice its effects have been to harass and even imprison some of the district’s young people just for being suspected of a gang affiliation, and in some cases for the “crime” of wearing the wrong color clothing or associating with members of their own families. Harassing young people, limiting their movements, imprisoning them for seeing their families, all of this only worsens the disconnect many of them feel from the community, the police, and the City. I want to see a more even-handed approach to gang policing.
4. Commit Resources and Time
Being a Fire Commission has taught me the importance of our safety infrastructure. Every day, brave men and women save lives by having the right equipment and training to do their jobs. We need to do everything possible to support them and to make their efforts more resource efficient. For example, we can reply more prudently to automatic alarms, nearly 99% of which are false and cost the department both time and resources. Also, it is important our elected officials are on the ground at fire and police calls, assessing what works and what does not. As a fire commissioner, I often go to fires to understand the impact and learn what we can do better, and I intend to do the same as Supervisor.