by Thomas K. Pendergast
The lunar new year, the Year of the Green Wooden Horse, is supposed to bring speedy success. It already has, as it brings the Richmond District a new police station leader, Capt. Simon Silverman, who replaces Commander Sharon Ferrigno.
“This is my first station and I’m full of excitement and enthusiasm about it,” Silverman said. “I feel like that’s matched by the people in the district; that they’re ready to get involved as well. I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity to make things safer and better in the district.”
A 19-year SF Police Department (SFPD) veteran, he also served seven years with the campus police at his alma mater, UC Berkeley, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
The 49-year-old, married, father of a teenage daughter has served at the Ingleside, Northern, Tenderloin, Mission, Southern and Park stations. He was also on the staff of the police academy and has experience as an investigator with the department’s legal division and field training program. His last assignment was with the SFPD’s Homeland Security Unit, where he served as an acting captain for eight months.
“I never intended to be a cop forever. I was intending to go to graduate school and decided that I would take two years off and become a police officer and see how it went. I just liked it so much that I stayed. And so, two years has turned into 26 years, so far,” he says. “Police officers often come into peoples’ lives at a time when they are very vulnerable and a lot has gone wrong, and so hopefully it’s a chance to be able to help.”
Silverman grew up mostly on the east side of the Bay Area, primarily in Walnut Creek, although he has lived in San Francisco “a couple of different times.”
He says a common crime in the Richmond District is auto burglary, especially in and around Golden Gate Park and up around the Cliff House Restaurant.
“People park their cars. The bad guys, watching, know that they may be gone for a period of time and then they’ll break into the car and take things from the car,” Silverman said. “Some of it’s on residential streets at night. Even just having the charger for a smart phone visible in the car, a thief might think: ‘Well, it’s worth a look’ to see if maybe the smart phone is in there too.
“If you have a jacket on the back seat, people may think there’s something good hidden under that jacket, so they may look. People should consider that anything they can’t live without, they shouldn’t leave in the car. If it’s really important, you should take it with you.”
Last year, one Richmond District massage parlor had its permit revoked and another parlor’s permit was temporarily suspended. Silverman says that officers from the station will not be doing routine inspections, but if they get a complaint about an establishment they will take action.
“I have a lieutenant just assigned to the station who has some actual background in those kinds of investigations. That’s going to be a great resource for us, should we get a problem,” he said. “If anybody brought a concern or if our officers noticed a concern while on patrol, anything that looks like it’s creating a quality-of-life problem for the neighborhood or that it’s beyond their permit,” then this could start an investigation, he said.
Another issue he will be dealing with is crimes involving homeless people in Golden Gate Park, since, except for special units and the east end of the park, it is primarily the responsibility of officers from the Richmond Station to respond to problems inside most of the park.
Recently, SF Supervisor Scott Wiener pushed through a ban on staying in the park between midnight and 5 a.m., but enforcing such a ban would depend on the staff available, Silverman said, which varies according to whatever else is happening in or around the district.
Silverman admits that this has been an ongoing and stubborn problem.
“Staffing has definitely been a challenge for us. It’s going to begin improving now. We have a commitment to hire very regularly moving forward. We weren’t hiring for a while, and we had a lot of retirements,” he explains. “We’ve reached the bottom of our staffing problem and we’re beginning to improve every several months now, as we graduate an academy class. The near-term prognosis is good for staffing.”
Dealing with homeless veterans, who tend to live in the western end of the park near the Veteran’s Administration medical facilities, is also a significant challenge.
“The problem with homelessness is that it’s a complex social problem. We’re not going to necessarily be able to cite or arrest our way out of a problem there,” he says. “The long-term, underlying solution is to try to connect people to services as much as we can, with the ultimate goal of having them not be homeless, and not have some of the problems that a lot of the people who are out there have: mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems.
“Our officers are always going to try to think big-picture or longer term and try to connect somebody to services. Every time we just give someone a ticket or arrest them, without dealing with the underlying problem, they’ll probably go right back into the situation they were in. The idea is to create some lasting change.”
He also praises the “community courts” model of handling low-level crimes, which has been adopted throughout the City, including the Richmond District, starting last year.
“We can work on more long-term solutions to problems when we get a person who is causing problems; we’re able to really take the time to focus on that,” he said. “There’s a limited number of cases that you can hear every year in San Francisco. So, if we can divert and fast-track more of those cases to a community level … it may be more satisfactory because we’re able to really have a better sense of what the problem is here locally.
Another important issue facing the district is traffic, especially along Geary Boulevard.
“We have older people. We have little kids. We have everybody on the streets walking, with bicycles. I think there’s definitely room to reduce both the collisions and the crime,” Silverman said. “It’s much better to prevent something than to end up having to investigate it later, because if the crime never happens, then it’s a good day.”