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SF traffic cops only issue 10 citations a day

Considering all the extremely dangerous driving on the streets of San Francisco, issuing traffic tickets should be a breeze for city cops. Tickets could rain down like confetti at a Warriors championship parade.

A new analysis of every ticket issued by San Francisco police over the past four and a half years shows traffic enforcement has plummeted. Incredibly, the 45 officers working in the department’s traffic division issued a combined 10 citations per day this year.

Yes, in a city with nearly half a million registered vehicles, a ticket is written every two and a half hours on average. That’s a huge drop in just three years: In 2019, the department issued an average of 74 traffic tickets a day, or about one every 20 minutes.

sergeant. Davin Cole (left) and San Francisco Police Department Officer Robert Rueca respond to a car burglary in June 2019.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle 2019

“It’s quite interesting and scary, frankly,” said Stephen Braitsch, a safe streets advocate and data analyst who requested the information from the police department and shared it with me.

“What exactly are they doing?” he asked the cops, a question many San Franciscans have asked in recent months after a series of cases in which the police didn’t seem to be doing much policing.

Officer Kathryn Winters, spokeswoman for the SFPD, said the Traffic Division was at its lowest staffing level in 30 years and in 2019 it had 69 officers. The current 45 officers have other duties besides issuing citations, including investigating collisions, assisting with efforts to increase police presence in the Tenderloin, and managing crowds at parades and marches.

“Officers assigned to the Traffic Company continue to go out each day balancing all of these obligations while continuing to carry out their primary mission of enforcing traffic safety in San Francisco,” Winters said in a statement.

She said the Traffic Division conducted a speed enforcement operation last Wednesday – the day after the department’s questions were sent for this column – in the market’s south area, issuing three citations plus additional warnings. . I could stand outside The Chronicle newsroom at Fifth and Mission streets in SoMa and spot three illegal driving maneuvers in five minutes.

Luke Bornheimer, another safe streets advocate who worked with Braitsch on the citation analysis, said: “People are realizing that the police aren’t really doing their job. We know the streets are dangerous because people rightly believe that no one is going to stop them.

Braitsch, who lives in the Haight, requested the data in May after becoming exasperated by cars passing through his neighborhood without any repercussions. Most city streets have a 25 mph speed limit, but too many drivers ignore it. The data in Braitsch’s analysis goes through May 23 of this year.

The SFPD’s dip in traffic enforcement comes amid a national toll of police abuse and persistent evidence that many officers racially profile drivers. Some civil rights advocates want traffic enforcement removed from police duties and given to unarmed civilians instead.

Parking Enforcement Officer Dan Ryan cites a vehicle for illegally parking in front of a residence in January.

Parking Enforcement Officer Dan Ryan cites a vehicle for illegally parking in front of a residence in January.

Bronte Wittpenn/The Chronicle

But that hasn’t happened yet — and neither has the adoption of automated speed enforcement. For now, it’s the police or nothing when it comes to citing dangerous drivers.

Neither Braitsch nor Bornheimer want more police in San Francisco, but they argue the department could do a more effective job with the police, money and equipment it already has.

In 2014, the city adopted the “Vision Zero” commitment to eliminate road deaths within a decade. The police department has played a key role in this commitment, pledging that half of its tickets will be for the five behaviors most likely to lead to accidents: speeding, running red lights, blowing through stop signs, do not yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. , and do not give way when turning left or making a U-turn.

But only 35% of the paltry number of citations issued in San Francisco since 2018 were for those five violations, while the majority were for behavior unlikely to hurt anyone else — like expired tags, suspended licenses, tinted windows and broken taillights, the scan found.

In lower-income and more diverse neighborhoods — including the Tenderloin, Chinatown and Bayview-Hunters Point — an even higher share of citations were for these relatively minor offenses. It seems people of color still bear the brunt of enforcement, even the thin porridge served up by San Francisco.

Meanwhile, only 32% of citywide citations are issued on the “serious injury network” – the 13% of city streets where 75% of deaths and serious injuries occur. These include busy thoroughfares such as Geary Boulevard, Van Ness Avenue, and 19th Avenue, as well as nearly every street in the Tenderloin.

Braitsch and Bornheimer argue that the department’s 50 traffic officers would be much more effective if they aimed their citations at the five bad driving behaviors that occur on the high-risk-injury network.

But this is not the case and the result is predictable. Already this year, 18 people have died in traffic collisions on the streets of San Francisco, a figure that puts the city on track to match the 31 deaths in 2014 that prompted the “Vision Zero” commitment in the first place. Hundreds more people are seriously injured on the streets of San Francisco every year but survive.

The drop in traffic citations reflects what many city residents say is a drop in overall policing. There were the officers who broke into a cannabis dispensary in the Haight in November and watched as a person exited the building, jumped into a car and drove off. There were the squatters who parked a Mercedes and a BMW outside a house in Bernal Heights earlier this year, created a drug den inside, destroyed the property and were allowed by the police to leave without repercussions.

There was the San Francisco Wine Society parklet which was ransacked by a vandal in December – thanks in part to police officers who, according to camera footage, arrived halfway through the destruction and left, allowing him to continue.

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