Bay Area Freeway Shootings Have More Than Tripled In Four Years. In 2021, Almost Half Occurred In One County

The year had barely started when a major Bay Area freeway saw its first burst of gunfire, right at the onset of rush hour.

On the afternoon of Jan. 4, a bullet fired by a yet-unknown shooter hit Alameda County sheriff’s recruit David Nguyen as he drove his Toyota Prius west on Interstate 580 toward the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Nguyen apparently slumped over the wheel and crashed his car into a guardrail, becoming one of the latest victims of a surge in highway violence.

Over the past three years, shootings have more than tripled on the arterials that knit the region together — from 49 Bay Area freeway shootings in 2018, to 165 through October last year, according to the California Highway Patrol in response to a public records request from The Chronicle. Limited available records also show a spike in deaths — from two fatal freeway shootings for the whole Bay Area in 2018, to six gun deaths on Oakland freeways alone in 2021.

Among the lives claimed by these attacks were a toddler strapped in his car seat, teenagers packed onto a party bus and Amani Morris, a mother on her way to a job orientation. Their stories reflect the human toll of a trend that presents galling challenges for law enforcement.

“It just angers me so much,” said Alicia Benton, Morris’ mother. The two were FaceTiming minutes before gunfire killed Morris on I-80 near the Bay Bridge on the morning of Nov. 18.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

House Democrats Size Up Next Leaders As Pelosi Rumors Churn, Midterms Loom

With Republicans favored to regain the House in November’s midterm elections, talk on Capitol Hill has turned to the future of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team.

Rumors have swirled for weeks that Pelosi, who turns 82 in March, will leave Congress at the end of this term — especially if Democrats receive the walloping forecast by most polls.

GOP lawmakers and operatives insist that President Biden’s plummeting approval ratings, announcements by at least 24 Democratic lawmakers that they will not seek reelection, and historical precedent that the party controlling the White House often loses congressional seats in midterms augurs that a “red wave” is coming this fall.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has made hay of the whispers, repeatedly referring to Pelosi as a “lame duck Speaker” on social media and during press conferences. 

However, multiple Democratic sources say that a large midterm loss is not inevitable. They note that 11 of the 16 House Democrats who have announced they would rather retire than seek another two-year term are in their 70s and 80s, suggesting they are motivated by other factors than dread of at least two years in the minority. (Four other departing House Democrats are running for the US Senate, while another four are seeking other office.)

One Democratic source also pointed to grudging praise recently offered by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a indicator that Pelosi’s powers over her caucus have not yet faded.

“She has been amazingly effective for a very long time,” Gingrich told “Fox & Friends” Monday. “She survived losing the Congress [in 2010], came back as the minority leader, got to be Speaker again, and with a tiny majority, she accomplished things I didn’t — as a former Speaker, I didn’t think were possible. So, you at least technically have to have a real respect for her professionalism, her toughness, the degree to which she owns the House Democratic Party. When she leaves, there will be a big vacuum.”

But not every Democrat is so optimistic about the party’s chances.

“I believe if Democrats (miraculously) retain a majority in 2023, she’ll stick around for one more Congress,” one lawmaker told The Post. “If not, I suspect she’ll defer to a new generation of leadership.”

Click here to read the full article at the NY Post

San Francisco Now Has 3rd Highest COVID Transmission Rate In California

San Francisco now has the third-highest coronavirus transmission rate in California, with a daily average case rate of about 104 per 100,000 residents.

The county recorded a seven-day average of 896 cases per day on Dec. 30, the most recent available data. That is more than double the previous peak of 388 cases, a seven-day average recorded on Jan. 12 last year.

At least one Bay Area county, Napa, is out of available intensive care beds as the virus once again tightens its hold on the region.

San Francisco’s transmission rate ranks in California behind only Los Angeles County, with 118 cases per 100,000 residents — the highest reported there since the start of the pandemic — and Mono County with 109 per 100,000. Across California, the seven-day average is 75 cases per 100,000, and in the Bay Area, it is 63 cases.

San Francisco officials said infections among staff members are starting to affect city departments. The Municipal Transportation Agency said Monday in a memo obtained by The Chronicle that it is implementing COVID protocols at its offices on South Van Ness Avenue after an outbreak involving several staff members.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Bay Area also hit their highest number since mid-September over the weekend.

Data analyzed by The Chronicle shows 746 Bay Area hospital patients testing positive with the coronavirus as of Sunday — a figure not seen since the tail end of the summer delta surge. Of those patients, 149 were in intensive care unit beds — a 50% jump since Christmas.

That is already putting stress on some hospital systems in the region. Napa County has no ICU beds currently available, said Leah Greenbaum, the county’s emergency services coordinator.

“The current surge is driving more patients to the health care system, and it is also impacting staff,” she said. “When staff become infected with COVID-19, they cannot come into work and care for patients, which can cause significant strain on the health care system.”

The number of hospitalizations in the Bay Area, a lagging indicator of pandemic trends, has risen sharply since mid-November with the spread of the omicron variant and the persistence of the delta variant, and it shows no sign of abating.

Click here to read the full article at San Francisco Chronicle

60% of S.F. Drug Incidents Are In The Tenderloin. That Number’s Rise Is One Factor In the Debate Over a ‘State of Emergency’

Last week, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood. A small, dense neighborhood in the heart of downtown, the “T.L.” is home to museums, the city’s theatre district and about 36,000 San Franciscans.

The Tenderloin has also long been a hotbed for illicit drug use, an issue made all the more urgent by the recent surge in overdose deaths. Data from SFPD shows that about 60% of San Francisco’s drug-related reported police incidents in 2021 have occurred in the neighborhood, up from about 40% in 2019, prior to the pandemic.

Breed’s declaration follows months of stories in national media focused on a perceived crime wave in San Francisco. Some city leaders and public officials, including San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott and Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Catherine Stefani, have supported Breed’s emergency declaration, which came with pledges to offer additional services to people suffering from addiction. She also proposed increased funding to police in order to get “a lot more aggressive” with existing laws, including a city ordinance that prevents people from lying or sitting on sidewalks.

Other officials, like District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton and Public Defender Mano Raju, agree the Tenderloin is in crisis — but criticize the Mayor’s plans to increase policing and jail those who refuse treatment, saying they echo historic tough-on-crime policies that failed to reduce crime rates in the city or meaningfully help people with drug addictions.

As Breed and other city leaders begin to enact the state of emergency plan, which the Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on at 2 p.m. on Thursday, the Chronicle examined data kept by the SFPD to see what it could tell us how drug activity and policing in the Tenderloin has changed over time, focusing on the pandemic period.

SFPD data shows that the Tenderloin has consistently had the most drug-related incidents, defined as reports filed with the department about incidents involving drugs, of any of the city’s neighborhoods. This year so far, the T.L. has had 1,186 reported drug incidents — nearly two-thirds of the city’s total, even though the neighborhood accounts for just 4% of its population. Over that time period, the neighborhood had a reported drug incident rate of nearly 330 crimes per 10,000 residents. That’s more than three times that of SoMa, the neighborhood with the second-highest drug incident rate in the city, and nearly 15 times that of the Financial District, the third-highest.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

California Democrats Embrace Tough-On-Crime Rhetoric

“It is time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city … come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement … and less tolerant of all the bulls—t that has destroyed our city.”

“We need to … ensure that those who commit crime are held to account and that no one gets a free pass.”

“The need for a system that can … alert law enforcement to vehicles associated with violent crime, in real time, has never been more apparent.”

“Once we had the issue of a lot of folks coming to Melrose to do crime, we said, ‘We have to hit this with everything we have,’ so we put in some extra funding.”

“I will not wait out this holiday season and let these organized groups continue to believe they can prey on California shoppers and retailers with no repercussions.”

These Tuesday comments did not come from Fox News commentators or even California conservatives. They came from California Democrats — San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Attorney General Rob Bonta, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks, respectively — signaling a definitive shift in the party’s approach to crime ahead of the 2022 elections.

Case in point were the politicians’ Tuesday announcements:

The tough-on-crime rhetoric comes amid a sea of sobering statistics: Oakland police on Monday announced they’re investigating the 131st homicide of the year — the city’s highest total in a decade. And a Tuesday report from the Public Policy Institute of California found that homicides, aggravated assaults and violent and property crime rates in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco are all up in 2021 compared to last year.

Also cracking down on crime is the state Employment Development Department, which announced Tuesday that it has suspended payments on certain disability insurance claims and is subjecting medical and health providers to increased vetting to halt “a recent move by organized criminal elements to file false disability insurance claims.” The department, which has already confirmed paying at least $20 billion worth of fraudulent claims, said its actions would help prevent “further fraud” but could result in longer wait times for legitimate claimants.

This article originally appeared on CalMatters

Mayor Breed Wants to Flood Tenderloin With Police To Confront Drug Dealers — And Those Using Drugs

Mayor London Breed wants to significantly boost the police presence in the Tenderloin over the next few months as part of a public safety blitz, which includes a crackdown on those who are selling drugs — and those who are using them — in the long-troubled neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Breed called for increased funding for police overtime to help pay for the move, which includes tackling the resale of stolen goods. She told residents last week that she believes policing is an “important tool” to address some of the neighborhood’s woes, which include widespread drug dealing, a surge in fatal overdoses and a spike in gun violence.

“It’s time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city … come(s) to an end,” Breed said at a news conference in City Hall on Tuesday, flanked by department heads and Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Ahsha Safaí. “It comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bulls— that destroyed our city.”

The Department of Emergency Management will lead the two- to three-month intervention that officials hope will result in more sustainable changes. Increased spending for police overtime is just one component of the plan, which will also focus on basic infrastructure needs like more cleaning, public toilets and streetlights.

But the push for more officers will likely draw the most attention, landing amid a national reckoning over the role of police in vulnerable communities. It also marks a shift in messaging from the Breed administration, which for the past year has focused on creating programs that remove law enforcement from interactions with those struggling with homelessness, mental health issues and drug use.

Breed’s public safety plan comes as the Tenderloin continues to grab national headlines and the mayor feels heat to get the city’s spiraling homelessness and overdoses crisis under control. It also lands a day after the mayor announced a plan to rein in the school board. Both initiatives could score her political points, but have also sparked criticism.

The mayor’s office said overtime pay will also be used for other priorities, such as deterring retail theft in Union Square. Breed also introduced legislation Tuesday, co-sponsored by Safaí, to tackle reselling of stolen goods on the streets by prohibiting street vending in existing “problematic” areas such as UN Plaza and requiring vendors to post approved permits.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

SF Restaurant Apologizes for Denying Service to Armed, On-Duty Police Officers

The owners of a restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood apologized Sunday for asking police officers to leave their eatery because the officers’ guns made employees uncomfortable.

In a statement posted Sunday on social media, Hilda and Jesse owners Rachel Sillcocks and Kristina Liedags Compton said “these are stressful times and we handled this badly.”

Three officers were asked to leave the brunch spot on Friday and the restaurant posted an explanation on its Instagram channel Saturday that read: “The restaurant is a safe space. The presence of the officers’ weapons in the restaurant made us feel uncomfortable. We respect the San Francisco Police Department and are grateful for the work they do. We welcome them into the restaurant when they are off duty, out of uniform and without their weapons.”

Outcry soon followed on social media, including a response from San Francisco police chief William Scott, who said his department “stands for safety with respect, even when it means respecting wishes that our officers and I find discouraging and personally disappointing.”

The restaurant owners backtracked on Sunday with the apology on Instagram.

“We made a mistake and apologize for the unfortunate incident on Friday when we asked members of the San Francisco Police Department to leave our restaurant,” said Sillcocks and Liedags Compton. “We are grateful to all members of the force who work hard to keep us safe, especially during these challenging times.”

The incident drew comments supporting both sides. Some commenters were clearly upset at the incident, calling it discriminatory and pointing out that if there were to be an emergency the officers would be there to help.

“How disrespectful and entitled of the business to treat people who risk their lives to protect us,” wrote one poster. “It’s a bit heartbreaking actually.”

Local resident John Perri agreed.

Click here to read the full article at CBS SF Bay Area

‘Flash Mob’ Loots California Nordstrom, At Least Two people Arrested

At least two people were arrested at gunpoint after a flash mob of shoplifters robbed a California department store late Saturday night, a report said.

The incident happened at the Walnut Creek Nordstrom store, according to NBC Bay Area reporter Jodi Hernandez.

Some two dozen cars blocked the street as throngs of robbers rushed the store, made off with merchandise and sped away, the reporter tweeted.

Cops with guns drawn arrested two suspects, she said.

Click here to read the full article at NY Post

We Obtained Never-Before-Seen Data on How Chesa Boudin is Prosecuting Cases. Here’s What It Shows

When Chesa Boudin ran for San Francisco District Attorney in 2019, he promised to approach crime differently than his predecessors, in part by no longer prosecuting lower-level offenses like recreational drug use. He also pledged to take more rape cases to trial, even if that meant he would lose those cases more frequently.

Less than two years after taking office, Boudin faces a likely recall election after critics of his administration garnered more than 83,000 signatures from residents who believe he has made the city less safe. To explore that claim, the Chronicle conducted a comprehensive review of how often his office decides to prosecute arrested individuals and how often it secures convictions in selected types of crime.

Boudin’s overall charging rate is 48%, slightly lower than predecessor George Gascón’s 54% in his last two years and on par with Gascón’s charging rates in 2016 and 2017. But overall charging rates can be misleading because the types of cases the D.A. receives from police can change significantly from year to year, especially during abnormal periods such as the current global pandemic.

A review of charging rates for specific crime types, which allows a more accurate assessment of what Boudin’s administration has done differently, shows that charging rates have increased for rape and drug cases under his watch, while they have decreased for theft and other lower-level offenses.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

Drug Overdoses and Deaths Exploding in San Francisco

Admissions to addiction treatment programs in San Francisco have dropped by 20% over the past five years, even as drug use and overdose deaths have exploded, according to public health data published this week.

Combined with recent reports of treatment center vacancies — on some nights, 1 in 4 beds is empty in San Francisco’s residential treatment facilities — the admissions data suggest that certain addiction programs are being underutilized at a time when the city is in a drug use crisis, some public health and elected officials say.

But much of the decrease in admissions may be explained by people seeking other types of addiction services that don’t require residential care. The data alone may not paint a full picture of a public health issue that is complex and currently in flux, addiction experts said. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle