Nonprofit loses track of neighborhood watch groups 

The nonprofit organization contracted by the San Francisco Police Department to set up neighborhood watch groups as The City struggles to combat crime has no idea how many of these groups remain active and, in many cases, what they are doing, according to a city report.

During the last seven years, 333 neighborhood watch groups were officially started by the nonprofit San Francisco SAFE, which was paid $590,000 for its services this year under its contract with the Police Department, according to a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

As a high homicide and violent crime rate continues to plague neighborhoods and the San Francisco Police Department continues to operate below its voter-mandated level of 1,971 officers, an emphasis is being placed on community policing, which includes active participation by residents to assist law enforcement.

"In San Francisco, once a group completes a series of initial neighborhood watch meetings, SF SAFE does not systematically monitor its meetings or activities. Thus, SF SAFE cannot gauge which groups are either active or inactive. Nor can SF SAFE determine whether interest in neighborhood watch is flagging," the report said.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who requested the report, said he thinks there "are a lot less" than 333 active groups.

"What concerns me is that this city is actually dotted with many signs that claim neighborhood watch programs when in fact there isn’t a watch program anymore because it has grown inactive," Mirkarimi said.

Mirkarimi, who chairs the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee, wants to bolster The City’s neighborhood watch program to not only track which groups remain active, but also strengthen them and ensure their efforts are sustained in years to come in an effort to help cut down on San Francisco’s high crime rate.

The report suggests that the Board of Supervisors urge SF SAFE to establish monthly meetings at SF SAFE headquarters for neighborhood watch groups to report their activities and learn what other groups are doing. "This would also serve as a mechanism to determine commitment to neighborhood watch," the report said.

Cindy Brandon, executive director of SF SAFE, said that The City has an "excellent" neighborhood watch program and that SF SAFE helps form such groups by giving them the tools to operate independently, without constant SF SAFE involvement. She cited limited staff as the reason for an inability to track how many groups remain active.

"Brandon points out that SF SAFE has some sense of their levels of activity because they often ask SF SAFE back for help to address issues or resolve problems," the report said.

Brandon said that SF SAFE is willing to incorporate recommendations by city officials on how to improve the neighborhood watch program in a one-year pilot program.

"For me, this ties into the larger vision of having smart community policing," Mirkarimi said. "When you have a disconnected or a disempowered community, then you have an unsafe community."

Mirkarimi said he would hold a hearing on the report’s findings at the Public Safety Committee in the upcoming weeks.

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