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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Curfew idea sees light of day

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 15, 2008

City and school officials have pursued numerous approaches to encourage students and parents to curb truancy, but some leaders say San Francisco needs to do more to just pick loitering minors up off the streets and return them to school.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is pushing the San Francisco Unified School District, police and other agencies to step up enforcement of truancy laws, he told The Examiner on Monday.

At the same time, the Office of Criminal Justice is weighing a daytime curfew as one possible tool for keeping kids in the classroom, according to the office’s Maya Dillard-Smith.

“We need to get back to basics, and either have a trained protocol with the Police Department or another branch of government that can encounter truants and their parents and then have a facility where they’re able to admit them,” Mirkarimi said.

Police do pick up truant students and take them back to class or to The City’s lone truancy center, housed at the Bayview YMCA, according to police spokesman Neville Gittens.

However, Keith Choy, director of the school district’s truancy program, said police don’t get involved that often.

“What I hear from police is, ‘I should save my uniform for more substantive crimes,’ or ‘We don’t have a place to take them,’” Choy said.

Across the district, Choy has a staff of 65 attendance counselors — and one of their jobs is knocking on parents’ doors when kids start missing school. “I wish there were more,” he said.

The number of students who missed 10 or more days of school has held steady for the past three years, though it increased slightly to 5,449 in 2007-08, the same year District Attorney Kamala Harris began prosecuting parents of the worst offenders.

Six parents were given court-mandated instructions to keep their children in school and to get support for the problems contributing to truancy — or face increased penalties, including a $2,500 fine or up to a year in jail. So far, five of the six families are complying, according to district attorney spokeswoman Erica Terry Derryck.

Over the past four years, 94 percent of the city’s homicide victims under 25 were high school dropouts, according to Harris, who launched a $20,000 anti-truancy ad campaign Monday.

In addition, when students don’t attend school, the district loses money. District officials estimate it has lost $10 million in state attendance revenue because of truancy.

Other cities across the nation have daytime curfews in place to curb truancy. Students in San Mateo County who are truant multiple times can be fined up to $100 and lose driving privileges under the county’s curfew ordinance.

Mirkarimi said Harris’ prosecution efforts and the school district’s intervention programs aren’t enough without a citywide strategy and system of accountability.

Not everyone agrees that truants need more police intervention.

“Truancy should not be thought of as a criminal- or juvenile-justice issue,” said N’Tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Youth. “Our schools lack support. They’re stretched, and kids are falling through the cracks.”

Truancy rates 2006-07

Defined as students with three or more unexcused absences, San Francisco’s truancy rates are among the highest in the Bay Area

Oakland: 23,562 (49.76%)
Marin County: 4,284 (15.02%)
San Jose: 6,501 (21.05%)
San Francisco Unified School District: 15,149 (27.47%)
San Mateo County: 18,802 (21.42%)

Source: California Department of Education

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 15, 2008 at 11:14 PM

Merchants mobilize after violent stabbing, robbery

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 30, 2008

The head of a merchant association in the normally quiet neighborhood of Glen Park is renewing his demand for a police surveillance camera at Diamond and Chenery streets after the owner of a corner market was nearly stabbed to death during a robbery Friday night.

Glen Park Merchant’s Association President Ric Lopez, owner of ModernPast furniture store on Chenery Street, said he has been asking San Francisco police to install a camera at the busy corner for three years. Paul Park, the 53-year-old owner of Buddy’s Super Market on Chenery Street at Diamond Street, was beaten and stabbed, and a fellow employee was kidnapped by unknown suspects late Friday, according to police.

Park has been transferred out of San Francisco General Hospital’s intensive-care unit and was listed in stable condition Sunday, nurses said.

“Everybody in the neighborhood is in shock still — it was just brutal,” Lopez said. “We’ve been asking for the camera for years, but I think residents need to ask for it, too. I think we could probably get it this time.”

Police are still looking for four suspects, described as black men, who broke into Buddy’s through the rear door of the market and attacked Park, kidnapped another employee and forced the worker to drive Park’s van to Daly City, where they took off on their own, SFPD spokesman Neville Gittens said.

The van, a tan 2002 Toyota Sienna with California license plate 4VHN307, is still missing, police said.

Friday’s robbery is the latest in a string of violent crimes in the close-knit San Francisco neighborhood. Luis Diaz, 39, was shot and killed on the 800 block of Chenery Street on Aug. 5, just two blocks from the corner of Diamond Street. Robbie Valdespino, 31, turned himself in for the homicide a few days later, but police released him because they could not bring charges against him, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Several residents have been mugged this year, including Richard Tarlov, co-owner of Canyon Market, who was mugged after closing his business one night this spring.

This month, Critter Fritters, a pet store on Chenery Street, was burglarized after-hours by a suspect who stole cash, a credit card machine and a fax machine, employee Antonio Jerez said. Police recovered the goods but not the suspect.

“I’m scared to close the store by myself now,” Jerez said, adding that many local businesses are nervous. “[After our robbery], Paul Park said he was afraid he was going to get hit next.”

Businesses are being urged to watch each other’s storefronts and install extra lighting for safety, said Lopez, who will establish a bank account Tuesday where locals can donate funds for Park’s medical expenses.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 30, 2008 at 10:31 PM

Posted in Crime, San Francisco

Diplomas behind bars offer students second chance

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
July 5, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — A pioneering charter high school for adults housed within San Francisco County jails won approval this week to triple its size, a move that could bolster its ability to graduate inmates and reduce rates of recidivism.

Five Keys Charter High School, founded in 2003, was the first charter high school in the United States to open its doors within a jail.

Since then, a handful have opened across the country, including schools in Albuquerque, N.M., Eau Claire, Wis., and Raleigh, N.C., the latter of which was shut down in 2006.

Although Five Keys enrolls more than 200 inmate and parolee students of all ages per year, it could only accept 20 to 25 in independent study — a problem when county jails lack classroom space and many inmates must be kept separate due to gang affiliations, according to Sheriff Michael Hennessy.

“When you have the Hall of Justice Jail with 800 prisoners and no classrooms, it’s tough to do anything but independent study,” Hennessy said.

In June, the San Francisco Board of Education approved two new charters for Five Keys, including space for up to 60 independent-study students as well as making room for a new high school and an adult school for former inmates who need help acquiring job skills — and jobs. Classes or independent study will be offered in most jail facilities, including two in San Bruno.

Although more than half of county jails offer some kind of high school equivalency program, almost none are certified by the California Department of Education — meaning students must meet state graduation standards and pass the California High School Exit Exam to graduate.

Five Keys’ waiting list has at least 180 inmates on it, Hennessy said.

“We have people who have failed time and time again in school,” said Steve Good, Five Keys’ executive director. “They’re clean and sober, and they have time on their hands — so if they’re not [in class], or participating in another program, they’re busy becoming better criminals.”

Statistics show that inmates who obtain a high school diploma while incarcerated or shortly after they’re released are 20 percent less likely to be arrested again, according to Hennessy.

Former inmate Lenita Lloyd graduated this week after two years in Five Keys. She enrolled shortly after being convicted of first-degree burglary in August 2006 and sentenced to the women’s jail.

Lloyd left high school at 16 in favor of a job and an apartment of her own. “This time, I was more serious about school, more motivated,” Lloyd said. “I’m the first in my family to graduate high school.”

Inmates and education by the numbers
SAN FRANCISCO

2,244: Inmates in county jails

55 percent: Recidivism rate

NATIONWIDE
47:
Percent of county-jail inmates who have not completed high school

18: Percent of U.S. general population that has not completed high school

26: Percent of state-prison inmates who complete the General Educational Development test while incarcerated

77: Percent of inmates without a diploma or GED who have been arrested more than once

71: Percent of inmates with a diploma who have been arrested more than once

66: Percent of inmates with some college education who have been arrested more than once

Sources: San Francisco County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Bureau of Justice

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

July 5, 2008 at 8:35 PM

Drug sales targeted near Lincoln

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
March 28, 2008

Police at Taraval Station have been cracking down on drug peddling near Abraham Lincoln High School, a recurring issues that has spiked again in recent months.

Officers have arrested or cited four suspects who were carrying marijuana, most of them attempting to sell the drug on the streets surrounding the high school, according to police reports.

Two adults were arrested on Quintara Street in late January and mid-February, and a 15-year-old was arrested March 5 at the corner of 22nd Avenue and Taraval Street. Another teen was cited March 6 for marijuana possessionat Lincoln, according to Sgt. Neville Gittens.

Drugs are not a new problem near the school, neighbors say.

“Most of us have put gates in front of our doors because the kids come up here and smoke their weed in the doorways,” said one man who didn’t want to give his name because he lives close to campus, at 23rd Avenue and Quintara Street.

Police were first tipped off to drug-related activity when neighbors, merchants and school administrators complained about marijuana sales near the school, according to police Capt. Paul Chignell. Plainclothes officers set up surveillance areas and arrested several dealers, including the teenager on March 5, according to Lt. John Feeney.

Lincoln High School Principal Ron Pang said he has been vocal about the need to continue the surveillance because he wants to make sure dealers aren’t preying on students. He also assured parents that their children are safe.

“This is not an issue specific to Lincoln,” San Francisco Unified School District spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said. “It’s something all high schools need to work with police on.”

Although police say they believe they have caught several prime suspects, “this is in no way an end [to the issue],” Feeney said, adding that high-school students provide a steady stream of customers. “When you take someone down like that, there’s usually someone to fill in behind them.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 28, 2008 at 1:52 AM

Officials: Design flaw enabled inmate escape

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 20, 2008

A design oversight at the county Youth Services Center, from which 17-year-old murder suspect Josue Orozco escaped last week, allowed the young fugitive to flee the San Mateo facility, authorities revealed Tuesday.

Orozco scaled a 15-foot wall near a basketball court at the facility after two inmates boosted him high enough to reach halogen lights installed only 12 feet up the wall, according to officials. He used the lights as grappling mounts to climb over, then slipped through a hole in a fence and made his getaway.

The escape has highlighted a few security and protocol issues since Orozco fled sometime between 6:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Thursday.

The youngest person charged with murder in San Mateo County, Orozco was only 14 when he was charged with the murder of Francisco “Pancho” Rodriguez, of Redwood City, in 2005. Orozco faces life without parole.

In addition to the placement of the lights, authorities were not alerted until after close to three hours after the escape.

“Orozco has had ample time to plan his escape,” said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Mark Alcantara.

The halogen lights have now been raised to 15 feet and the recreation yard where the inmates were playing basketball has been closed, Probation Department Supervisor Loren Buddress said Tuesday.

The Youth Services Center, at 222 Paul Scannell Drive, is considering a number of long-term changes, Buddress said, such as the setup of an emergency notification phone service that will notify neighbors in the event of another escape.

Authorities also plan to revamp the process of notifying state law enforcement agencies and securing arrest warrants, Buddress said.

The probation department, which is responsible for the Youth Services Department, aims to finish its investigation this week and recommend any security upgrades, Buddress said.

The probation department continues to review surveillance tapes, which show two inmates, Martin Villa Patino and Vanher Cho, both 18, boosting Orozco high enough to grab onto the lights, Buddress said.

Authorities do not know who might have cut the hole in the fence, Alcantara said. The tapes also show a midsize black sedan with chrome wheels pulling to the fence around 7 p.m., he said.

Authorities are “not positive that the car was part of the escape,” but can’t discount that it might have been involved, he said.

A manhunt is currently under way, with county sheriff’s deputies, FBI, state law enforcement and border patrol working together to find Orozco.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors expects to hold its own separate investigation into the incident next Tuesday, said Bill Chiang, aide to Supervisor Adrienne Tissier.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 20, 2008 at 9:50 PM

Solving crime with a skeleton police force

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 16, 2008

SAN CARLOS — When it comes to solving crimes, this sleepy Peninsula city knows a thing or two about getting more done with less.

San Carlos spends less on police services per capita than similar cities in San Mateo County and has fewer officers to go around, but its ability to find and arrest suspects hasn’t suffered. In 2005, local police cleared 55 percent of its 31 violent crimes, 21 percent of its 105 burglaries and 11.7 percent of its 419 larcenies, according to U.S. Department of Justice numbers from 2005.

Cities such as Burlingame, Belmont and Foster City spent more money on police services and employed more officers, but didn’t match San Carlos’ clearance rate — which refers to any time investigators arrest a suspect or issue an arrest warrant, according to San Carlos police Chief Greg Rothaus.

So what’s San Carlos’ secret to success? Officers spend 40 percent or more of their time out on patrol, Rothaus said.

“We’ve gained in efficiency from our dispatch merger with Menlo Park, and we’ve been using non-sworn personnel to handle some functions, including crime-scene processing,” Rothaus said. That gives the city’s 39 to 42 officers time to respond to the calls they get from the public and patrol the streets.

Knowing the community is key to solving crimes, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

“If the citizenry feels comfortable talking, that gives officers avenues of travel,” Wagstaffe said. Sufficient staffing is also key.

“We’re down to 42 officers, whereas five to 10 years ago, we had 48 to 50,” Burlingame Police Department Cmdr. Mike Matteucci said.

Burlingame, which spends more on police and has more officers per capita than San Carlos, had similar success solving violent crimes in 2005 — 48 percent of 68 such crimes — but solved 9.7 percent of its 28 robberies and 3.4 percent of its 697 larcenies, according to the DOJ.

Policing Burlingame is complicated by the fact that it can have up to 5,000 additional residents in local hotels, and throngs of shoppers are drawn to the city’s downtown area, according to Matteucci.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 16, 2008 at 8:26 PM

Posted in Crime, San Carlos

Police arrest four on suspicion of prostitution in sting

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 14, 2008

SAN CARLOS — Police have arrested four women at local hotels on prostitution charges and are planning future stings to root out women who are offering sexual services for money.

San Carlos saw a rise in prostitution about six months ago when local police cracked down on sex workers in neighboring cities such as Redwood City, said police Chief Greg Rothaus. The suspects are typically women who advertise their services online and arrange to meet clients in hotels, police said.

Within that period of six months, San Carlos police have arrested La-Tisha Evans, 22, of Phoenix, Ariz., along with three other women who had prostitution-related arrest warrants from other Bay Area cities: Rebecca Howlett, 30, of Los Angeles; Janis Burkhardt, 29, of Hollywood; and Blossom Smith, 23, of Daly City, said San Carlos Police Sgt. Mark Robbins.

“They’re not visible on street corners anymore,” San Carlos police Cmdr. Rich Cinfio said. “We periodically check Craigslist to see if they’re listing San Carlos as a location and we check motels to see if there’s any specific activity.”

As part of its current crackdown, the police department is planning a decoy sting — though they couldn’t say when — in which undercover officers will meet with sex workers in the hopes of making further arrests, Cinfio said.

Such arrests can uncover a multitude of criminal activity, including narcotics, violence against the sex worker, or suspects who have warrants or who are on probation, Robbins said.

In Redwood City, keeping tabs on such activity is an ongoing priority, said Capt. Chris Cesena.

“It’s part of our everyday job — we average anywhere from two to four arrests per month,” typically at hotels along El Camino Real, Cesena said.

It’s unclear what impact, if any, the activity has on hotel business.

“Guests may feel there’s too much traffic [to the rooms], or there’s something going on in the room,” said a manager at the Homestead Studio Suites in San Carlos, who asked to remain anonymous. “I just tell them I’m going to call the cops, and they usually leave.”

Cesena points out that prostitution is less an epidemic and more of a constant enforcement issue. But modern technology doesn’t help, Robbins said.

“There’s a lot of stuff our society has created that helps them, from prepaid cell phones to Craigslist and UPS stores,” Robbins said. “It’s easier for people to become anonymous and still maintain contact.”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 14, 2008 at 8:19 PM

Posted in Crime, San Carlos