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Council Looks At Community Policing on Telegraph Ave.

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday May 08, 2007

Telegraph area merchants, property owners, residents and city officials and their representatives took a field trip to San Francisco last week to find out how “the city” curbs inappropriate behavior on Haight Street. 

They came away with kudos for the area and calling for Community Involved Policing on Telegraph, according to Al Geyer, owner of Annapurna and member of the Telegraph Area Merchants Association. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, among those on the trip, has placed a resolution on today’s (Tuesday) council agenda asking the city manager to write a report that would detail how the city could adopt community policing on Telegraph. 

In other business in the council’s 1,451-page packet, the council will address the mayor’s proposal to enact laws intended to curb anti-social street behavior, approve a mobile disaster fire protection system, discuss how a “sunshine” law will be written and reviewed, look at providing sex reassignment surgery as part of the city’s healthcare benefits, appointing Susan Kupfer as library trustee and more. 

The city meetings begin at 5 p.m. with a budget workshop. No information was available on the budget by deadline on Monday at 5 p.m. 

Geyer praised Haight Street for its sense of safety. And while there were homeless people on the street, “No one approached us,” he said, explaining that he and others on the trip credited community policing for the comfortable feel of the street. 

Geyer contrasts policing on Haight to that on Telegraph, which he compared to “a school with nothing but substitute teachers” given the lack of consistency in the officers who patrol the area. 

One of the people the group met in San Francisco was Officer John Andrews, who patrols the Haight, which is about the same length as the Telegraph Avenue business district.  

Andrews has chosen to be a beat officer in the Haight and has worked in that capacity for four years, according to Geyer. He spends at least two hours walking his beat and uses a bicycle to patrol during the remaining time of his shift. Each day, Andrews goes into every business to check in with the shop keepers. 

“We saw him stop and talk and listen to people,” Worthington said. “He was clearly engaged.” 

“Unlike here, they know the names of people in the community and get to know the habitual offenders,” Geyer said. Also, unlike in Berkeley, the Haight’s beat officers want to work in the area and make a long-term commitment, he said. 

Police on Telegraph “don’t want to be here,” Geyer said. “The officers here never engage the community.” 

The Haight officers have one cell-phone number merchants call and generally reach the officer directly. 

In Berkeley, the merchants call the non-emergency police number and speak to a dispatcher who is unfamiliar with Telegraph Avenue, Geyer said. They go through a mandatory litany of questions: “Are you safe? Is the person bothering you? Someone else? What does the person look like?” 

Worthington says that giving merchants the ability to call the beat officer directly is not out of the ordinary. “Many suburban shopping centers do that,” he said, noting that the Telegraph Avenue businesses do $100 million in sales annually and should be provided this service. 

The mental health teams don’t help, Geyer said, contending that the police don’t do the social work they need to do with people acting out because they think the mental health team is going to take care of the situation.  

In the Haight, “the police officers are more interested in social issues and act more like psychologists or school principals than crime fighters,” Geyer said. 

Policing in the Telegraph area is made difficult because of the way it is divided, with one precinct going from the middle of Telegraph Avenue to College Avenue and the other precinct stretching from the middle of the street to Shattuck Avenue, Geyer said. UC Berkeley police overlap in the area with city police. 

“When you call, you might get any of the three,” Geyer said, adding that the area should be one jurisdiction, patrolled by one city and one university officer. 

Another element of the Haight’s community policing is regular community meetings. 

In Berkeley, Worthington said, “The police just meet with the Telegraph Business Improvement District,” the property owners. “They hold one-sided insider meetings,” Worthington said. 

San Francisco Capt. John Ehrlich, who supervises the Haight Street beat officers, meets with the community every two to four weeks. The groups include neighborhood and community organizations, city departments, homeless youth, the Coalition on Homelessness and more. The group has no decision-making power, but it creates a dialogue within the community, Ehrlich said.  

Berkeley Police Chief Doug Hambleton did not return a call for comment before deadline. 


Public Commons Initiative 

The Homeless, Mental Health and Human Welfare commissions asked the mayor not to take action on proposals on the agenda concerning the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative, intended to enhance a person’s shopping experience by reducing the inappropriate street behavior of those who use the public areas associated with commercial districts. 

The mayor has said previously that the initiative will include services for people with mental health/substance abuse needs, but none are included in the part of the initiative to be addressed by the council tonight.  

The council could delay discussion of the initiative or approve some or all of its provisions, some of which include: 

• Changing the smoking laws from prohibiting smoking with 20 feet of a doorway or bus stop to prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of any building face in a commercial zone; 

• Making public urination and defication a citable offense and adding signage to the nearest public restroom; 

• Strictly enforcing city and state laws including prohibitions of lying on the sidewalk, public consumption of alcohol, noise disturbance (yelling and shouting), hitching animals to fixed objects, unauthorized possession of a shopping cart and more. 


Mobile protection from fire disaster 

The council will be asked to approve a $4.7 million mobile fire protection system intended to provide adequate water to fight large fires during an emergency when normal sources of water are unavailable or inadequate.  

The water would come from the Bay or Aquatic Park and would be pumped through 12-inch hoses to the fire, as high as Grizzly Peak, according to Deputy Chief David Orth. 

Funding for such a system was approved by voters in 2000, although the particular system under consideration at that time was later found to be inadequate and was not purchased.  

No additional funding will be asked of taxpayers, who have been paying for the system through their property taxes. 


Kupfer reappointment to library board 

Despite objections to the process by SuperBOLD, Berkeleyans Organized for Library Defense, a staff report written by library services director Donna Corbeil recommends a second term for Library Trustee Susan Kupfer. 

Kupfer was recommended by the library board 3-1, with board member Ying Lee voting in opposition. The City Council must approve the recommendation and generally does so without discussion. 

Kupfer “has dedicated countless hours of volunteer time in support of the library during a difficult time and is currently providing leadership as chair of the board,” says Corbeil’s report. “Her work on behalf of the board included negotiating the resignation of the previous library director, assisting with administration of the library during the past year’s leadership gap, working with the staff to solve daily problems, and supervision of the library director recruitment process ... Trustee Kupfer’s knowledge and professional legal expertise has been an exceptional contribution to the board and its decisions over the past four years of her term.” 

The library director serves at the pleasure of the library board. 

An ad hoc committee of city councilmembers and library trustees has been meeting to revamp the trustee selection process, in which the trustees self-select their members, with the council affirming the selection with little or no discussion.  

The council will also consider: 

• A process by which a sunshine (open government) law will be drafted and reviewed by the community. While Mayor Tom Bates said at the April 24 meeting that he would call on open government expert Terry Francke, an attorney with the advocacy organization Californians Aware, to help draft the ordinance, the city manager’s report says that the city attorney is continuing to draft the ordinance and that Francke and others will be able to weigh in after its completion. 

• Including sex reassignment surgery as part of employee healthcare benefits; 

• Increasing funds for summer employment for youth; 

• Setting a public hearing in July for an appeal for the Zoning Adjustment Board’s denial of a new wireless telecommunications facility at 2721 Shattuck Ave. 

• Reviewing the Sweatshop Free Berkeley Ordinance that was approved by the council but has not been implemented. It concerns the city not purchasing goods produced in sweatshop conditions.