A Safer San Francisco

London Breed
9 min readDec 14, 2021

All San Franciscans deserve to feel safe in their city. No matter where they live — Noe Valley, the Bayview, out on the Avenues, or in the heart of the Tenderloin. And the truth is, right now, people aren’t feeling safe — not safe enough anyway — all over the city.

We need to change course on how we handle public safety in San Francisco. I’m proud that this city believes in giving people second chances. Nevertheless, we also need there to be accountability when someone does break the law. We can’t be a place where anything goes on the street. San Francisco is a compassionate city, but our compassion cannot be mistaken for weakness or indifference.

The initiatives we are announcing today are bringing together multiple city departments in coordination to tackle the challenges we face.

I was raised by my grandmother to believe in “tough love” — in keeping your house in order — and I believe we need a little of that, now more than ever. And so, today, I am announcing a series of new steps to address public safety in San Francisco.

We are launching a series of initiatives to create a safer San Francisco, which include:

  • Executing an Emergency Intervention Plan in the Tenderloin neighborhood,
  • Securing emergency police funding to ensure we have the resources to combat major safety problems over the next several months,
  • Amending our surveillance ordinance so law enforcement can prevent and interrupt crime in real time — something they’re effectively barred from doing now — to better protect our homes and businesses,
  • Disrupting the illegal street sales of stolen goods that have become a clear public safety issue and are contributing to retail theft.
San Francisco’s first Street Crisis Response Team launched in the Tenderloin. We now have 24/7 coverage of the entire city.

We will do all of this while continuing our long-term work to establish innovative mental health interventions, like our Street Crisis Response Teams and the major expansion of mental health beds. We will also continue to expand access to housing and shelter, through our Homelessness Recovery Plan, and to invest in anti-poverty programs that are working, like Dreamkeeper Initiative and Opportunities for All.

San Francisco has been the safest city in the country when it comes to COVID. Let’s launch these initiatives with the goal of making it the safest city in the country — period.

Tenderloin Emergency Plan

The Tenderloin is a neighborhood full of families, seniors and children, new immigrants and longtime residents. It’s a neighborhood with a rich history of arts and culture. And the undeniable truth is that it is also a neighborhood that has been home to some of our city’s most entrenched problems for generations.

Last week, I met with a group of families from the TL. I was told about drug dealers threatening grandmothers. About mid-day shootings near a park where a single mother brings her toddler after school. About assaults on the street. About residents who just want to get to work, and from students who just want to get to school. About the fear they are living with.

Despite how much San Francisco has changed since I was a kid growing up in the Western Addition, these stories brought me right back to the constant violence and human tragedy I witnessed living in the projects. Nobody should have to experience that — no child should be exposed to that enduring trauma, no parent should have to live in fear of what could happen next.

What’s happening in the Tenderloin needs to end.

The commitment I have made to the people of the TL is that we will not just increase the resources needed for public health, community engagement, and economic development; we will also devote the law enforcement personnel and attention that they have asked for, and that is required, to end the culture of tolerance for illegal, unhealthy and unsafe behavior.

We need to take back our Tenderloin.

I’ve directed our Department of Emergency Management — which led our citywide, life-saving response to COVID — to bring the same level of multi-agency coordination, and relentless focus on health and safety, to the Tenderloin. This plan will work alongside current strategies we have in place, like our Mid-Market Safety and Vibrancy Plan, which includes community ambassadors from Urban Alchemy along Market Street and in the Tenderloin.

We will focus on the following priorities:

  • Preventing violent crime;
  • Streamlining emergency medical calls;
  • Interrupting open air-drug dealing;
  • Interrupting open-air substance abuse;
  • Establishing safe passage and accessibility for citizens;
  • Expanding housing resources;
  • Interrupting illegal vending;
  • Improving neighborhood cleanliness;

We have already started. Our phased approach includes, for example, fixing damaged utilities and adding temporary lighting in key areas to make the streets safer. Our Police Department and Sheriff’s Office have teamed up to do felony warrant sweeps, which included the arrests of 23 individuals with outstanding arrest warrants. I appreciate the hard work that our Police officers and Sheriff deputies are putting in, as are all our frontline workers. Now, it’s critical that our entire criminal justice system holds these individuals accountable when arrests are made. We need everyone to get on board, not just cops and frontline workers, but prosecutors and the courts as well. Our residents should not see the same criminals back on the streets of the Tenderloin again and again, in an endless cycle of fear and frustration.

Community Ambassadors from Urban Alchemy in the Tenderloin are out on nearly every street to increase public safety.

The next phase will roll out later this month and will continue for at least the next two months after that. This second phase will focus on direct intervention of the biggest problems — taking on the most destructive behavior. Social workers, clinicians, community partners and police officers will all work in concert to offer wrap-around services at a new temporary linkage site that will connect individuals in crisis to resources like substance use treatment, counseling and medical care. Concurrently, law enforcement will continue targeting the criminals — the drug dealers — who prey on people struggling with addiction and poverty and other issues. Meanwhile, City staff will prioritize infrastructure repairs and more targeted and frequent cleaning in the Tenderloin.

The final phase of this intervention focuses on transitioning to sustained operations, which will help keep streets safe and accessible for everyone who calls the Tenderloin home. This will include securing long-term funding for ambassador programs, supporting community-led beautification and open space projects, and making environmental changes that promote safety. This also includes long-term partnerships with community organizations and residents to maintain the improvements made during the initial, crisis phases.

We are committed to the short-term emergency intervention, and then after that, we will not let the Tenderloin slip back to its current conditions. We are doing this for the residents of this neighborhood, and for the entire city.

Securing Emergency Police Funding

These interventions in the Tenderloin are going to require a significant police response. And, frankly we need more action across the entire city to deal with the car break-ins, the burglaries, and, especially, the shootings. But our police have already been working overtime to address these and other serious challenges, including:

  • Responding to the rash of retail thefts, which have proliferated across California, with increased patrols and expanded investigations, through our Organized Retail Theft Initiative.
  • Confiscating more than 23 kilos of fentanyl, a catastrophic killer that is fueling this crisis, over the last year — four times more than the year before.
  • Expanding patrols through our Tourism Deployment Plan, which has increased safety in heavily trafficked areas as we welcome visitors back — something so essential to our economic recovery.
  • And focusing on auto burglaries, including making three significant major arrests over the last few weeks of the types of crews that we know are responsible not a few, not a dozen, but hundreds of burglaries every month.
Announcing new efforts to address car break-ins and disrupt the resale market of stolen goods

The SFPD has done all of this while being part of a police reform movement that has led to dramatic decreases in use-of-force incidents. Our officers, who are rapidly diversifying, are committed to that reform, and to keeping all of us safe.

With this new Tenderloin Plan, and other interventions, we are asking them to do more.

That’s why we will need a budget supplemental to help fund SFPD overtime through the rest of the fiscal year, so they can keep doing the critical work they do every day. My budget office is currently working with the department to understand what the needs will be to get us through the end of the fiscal year, June of 2022, and I will introduce that supplemental in January. As we plan for our upcoming budget, we will ensure public safety resources are in place as part of the two-year budget I will introduce at the end of May.

Expanding Access to Public Safety Tools

Simply having more officers, alone, is not enough to improve public safety in this city. Police need the tools to do their job effectively. This means we need to revisit our rules around using cameras to protect our neighborhoods and our small businesses.

In 2019, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance allowing departments like SFPD to use existing surveillance technology, but it also required departments to seek Board of Supervisors approval before obtaining or using any new surveillance technologies — such as cameras used by private businesses.

While this legislation created a clear public process and transparency relating to surveillance technologies, it also created barriers for law enforcement when responding to public safety emergencies. It hobbled law enforcement when confronting life-threatening incidents like active shooters, suspected terrorist events, hostage taking, kidnapping, natural disasters, or looting. It also created a significant delay in the approval process to establish a policy to use the equipment.

To effectively deter crime and prevent crimes in progress, amendments are needed to this legislation, to clarify that peace officers are allowed to access live-feed and in real-time surveillance technologies when necessary to maintain public safety. We are actively working on those amendments, with plans to introduce legislation in January.

Disrupting Illegal Vending

Illegal vending has become a clear public safety issue, for a variety of reasons. For the most part, the goods for sale are being acquired through criminal activity. In other words, the stuff is stolen, then sold on the street. In addition to the thefts themselves, there is an increasing use of weapons, get-away cars, physical violence, and invasion of homes and businesses that come with the robberies. Therefore, quashing the ability of these street vendors to profit by selling their illicit goods, openly in public spaces, must be a public safety priority.

That’s why I’m introducing legislation to combat the illegal vending we see on our streets. The ultimate objective is to disincentivize theft for profit. We need to eliminate the profitability of stealing and then reselling stolen goods. Crime shouldn’t pay.

To address this issue, my legislation will:

  • Create an exclusion zone for all street vending activity in existing locations that are highly problematic, such as United Nations Plaza;
  • Give the Department of Public Works the flexibility to add locations where vending will be barred;
  • Regulate the number of street vendor permits issued;
  • Mandate highly visible posting of approved vendor permits to make it simple and easy for inspections at any time;
  • Request proof of purchase immediately from anyone attempting to sell goods;
  • Enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure accessibility in our public spaces;
  • Allow DPW to associate with law enforcement if there is a need to move individuals who are non-compliant and/or confiscate goods.

Next Steps

These are not the only actions we are going to be taking to address public safety. And to be clear, public safety also means confronting the underlying systemic problems that plague our society — such as the need for housing, health care and equity. We will keep working on those issues, too. But we need a safer San Francisco, and we need it now.