When the police canít protect

   I was in a meeting last week with the owners of some neighboring businesses. The subject was security.
   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 our customers.
   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 passenger.
   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 businesses.
   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 this.



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