I was in a meeting last
week with the owners of some neighboring businesses. The subject was
The initial discussion revolved around
the various human derelicts that have invaded our area, sleeping in
doorways, urinating in the street, and sometimes aggressively soliciting
These arenít the homeless temporarily
out of work; these are the homeless who have no desire to work. There may
be a way to change their life, but anyone would agree itís no quick fix.
After everyone at the meeting had told
a disgusting story or two about street bums, the subject escalated to
shoplifting incidents, physical altercations and even a couple of armed
robberies in the neighborhood.
Then the discussion turned to what to
do about this deterioration. Everyone agreed it was time to pool our
resources and hire our own security service to police the area.
I looked across the table at two of the
guests at our meeting. They were both uniformed officers of the San
Francisco Police Department. And like everyone else, they were in full
agreement that we needed to hire our own security.
What I found fascinating as I sat and
listened is that no one in the room, including me, even considered
suggesting the San Francisco police increase their presence in our area.
It has sadly become a foregone
conclusion that our local police force does not have the manpower to fully
protect us from the dangerous and disturbing elements that have
increasingly become a part of our business lives.
It has taken much time to come to this
depressing conclusion. Five years ago we would have demanded more of a
police presence to counter these problems. Our request might not have been
heeded, but we would certainly have expected some sort of response.
Now we donítí even ask.
Weíve read about the budget crunch,
the downsizing of the police force. But more importantly, weíve lived
it. Every time we call the police, they come armed with an excuse.
Sometimes they come right away. More
often, the response is slow because of a shortage of manpower. And thatís
when the excuses start flowing.
Thereís no arguing with their
defense. They are simply swamped. They need more bodies, more squad cars,
more beat cops, more money. They canít be two places at once. So we canít
count on them to be there every time we need them.
The police are as frustrated as we are.
The legal system takes their bookings and has them back on the street the
next day. On two separate occasions, before the Rodney King incident, we
asked a police officer what we could do about a particular human nuisance.
They both suggested we take the
offender into our back alley and make it very clear that he was not
welcome anywhere near our business.
Say hello to the dangerous new world of
vigilante justice. One of my neighbors was having a problem with a vagrant
disrupting his business about a year ago. The police were unable to put a
stop to it. Exasperated, my neighbor finally herded the vagrant into his
van and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and out Highway 1 toward
Stinson Beach, never saying a word to his intimidated and frightened
When it got as remote as it could get,
he stopped the car and ordered the thoroughly terrified man into a
roadside ditch. After pausing just long enough, he drove off.
Not surprisingly, the man hasnít
bothered my business neighbor since.
This is the direction things are going,
and it isnít pretty. The San Francisco Police Department is an excellent
organization made up of dedicated professionals who perform their
difficult and dangerous job with focus and sensitivity.
But we need to triple their numbers.
Since thatís not going to happen in
the near future, we have to take matters into our own hands. That means,
at the very least, hiring our own security to patrol our streets and
Itís costly, but the alternative is
to sit back and observe the continued deterioration of the area.
Itís also a dangerous and potentially
ugly direction. As we sat around the conference table and listened to the
two police offers give their views as to which private security company we
should hire to patrol our streets, I had one thought:
It should never have come to