Supes feud with mayor, chief over crime policy 

San Francisco’s high crime rates have sparked a highly charged political battle as the Board of Supervisors accuses Mayor Gavin Newsom and police Chief Heather Fong of not doing enough to make city streets safe.

Tensions between the two branches of government mounted in 2006 when the Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring a set number of police officers per station area to get out of their cars and walk a beat. Newsom unsuccessfully used his veto power to kill the legislation and slammed the board for attempting to dictate the deployment of officers, a decision he said should be left to the discretion of Fong.

The criticism of The City’s handling of the high crime rate was no more pointed than when Newsom’s ally, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, broke ranks and cast a key vote that helped override the veto. Dufty took the moment to sharply criticize Fong for lacking leadership, saying "We need to step forward because we are not seeing the level of leadership at the command structure that we need right now."

Dufty also said at the time: "Our city is hungry for strong public safety leadership."

His comments came days after violence erupted at the annual Castro Halloween street party as a lone shooter opened fire, injuring nine people.

On Thursday, mayoral spokesman Peter Ragone said Newsom, who will stand for re-election this November, stands by the leadership of Fong.

"By any objective measure, Chief Fong has done a very good job for the people of San Francisco. She has done a great job with bringing reforms to the Police Department by getting the necessary resources to get staffing levels up, to stabilize the Police Department, to restore integrity and to deal with crime in The City."

Last year, Newsom turned to surveillance cameras as one answer to solving the violent crime problem. Thirty-three cameras were erected in 14 different high-crime areas. This year, 25 additional cameras were approved for installation at eight additional crime-plagued locations, including the Mission, Bayview and Tenderloin. The use of the cameras came under attack by the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who said they are not proven effective and are an infringement on people’s rights to privacy and free assembly.

The Police Department has been successful in removing guns from The City’s streets — 2,400 guns have been removed in the last two years, according to police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens.

The annual cost of gun violence to The City — which includes police, medical, courts and probation — is $32.4 million annually, according to a city Controller’s Office report.

In December 2006, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office won a controversial civil injunction against a Bayview district street gang that restricts named gang members from congregating and conducting gang activity in a specified area around the Oakdale housing project. Police say the injunction has all but eliminated gang-related crime in that area. The City Attorney’s Office plans to use the civil injunction against gang members in the Mission.

Police say that in order to make arrests in homicides, they need witnesses to provide evidence. In 2006 a witness participating in the district attorney’s relocation program broke the cardinal rule of that program and returned to The City, where he was gunned down.

"In a lot of the homicides, we know who’s responsible for the crime and we’re just not able to either get the witnesses or evidence to bring those cases forward," Gittens said. "But we know, just like many people in the community know, who’s responsible."

Bonnie Eslinger and Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report

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