A real plan for safety in the Mission

Pub date October 14, 2008
WriterMark Sanchez
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION When I heard the news that Jorge Hurtado was shot and killed in the Mission District, I was doubly stunned. Not only was the 18-year-old my neighbor, he was shot on the same corner where Erick Balderas was killed a year ago.

Eleven years ago, Erick was a student in the fourth grade class I taught at Paul Revere Elementary in Bernal Heights. In fact, three of my former students have been murdered in the city in the last two years. None were gang members — and none of their attackers have been caught.

Violent crime in the Mission is on a huge upswing; the homicide rate is on track to double what it was a year ago. In just a few weeks there have been six killings in the Mission. It’s a tragedy that affects everyone: kids, parents, teachers, business leaders — the entire community.

That community has begun to take matters into its own hands after receiving no commitments from the Mayor’s Office. It’s going to take two things to overcome violence in the community: community policing to better prevent and solve crimes, and engagement around social problems that promote violence.

I am glad that Capt. Stephen Tacchini of the Mission Police Station will receive more reinforcements in response to these recent shootings. But it’s not enough. Beat cops get to know the people in the neighborhood, and vice versa. But it has to be done the right way: the officers have to be trained appropriately so that police and people in the community can feel comfortable interacting with one another. Especially in a neighborhood like the Mission, cultural competency training is critical.

In Chicago, the city creates incentives for police to live in the communities they patrol. We’re exploring new housing options for teachers in the school district, and we should expand the discussion to include police officers as critical members of the community.

We don’t need to go as far as Chicago, though, to find ideas that work: in District 5, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has pushed for foot patrols (the supervisors overrode a mayoral veto last year to make it happen). He has also gathered everyone around the same table — nonprofits, police brass, community leaders, city agency heads, small business owners — and these stakeholders have collectively worked on the problems. Because of these strategies, District 5 has seen a huge reduction in violence.

We also have to make sure that the organizations working with youth are engaged with one another, not competing for resources at the expense of getting the job done. There is $12 million available citywide for violence prevention, much of it spent in the Mission. But we’re not seeing results. Duplication of services, as well as filtering out the really troubled youth who are most at-risk, have diminished the impact of our CBO’s hard work.

I’ve already proposed that a Beacon Program be opened at O’Connell High School, which is near the heart of the violence. It would give kids a safe place to drop in as late as 2 a.m., where they could be referred to counseling services, if necessary.

Candlelight vigils are one way to help a community mourn their loss and begin to heal. But we won’t stop this endless cycle with vigils alone. Prevention needs to be our unified goal. *

Mark Sanchez is the president of the San Francisco Board of Education and a resident of the Mission District.