A tale of police priorities


By Anh Lê

On Friday afternoon, November 9th, as I was walking on Howard St. near 3rd, I was physically assaulted twice by a Caucasian man walking with an accomplice, an African American woman. I was punched in the jaw the first time while I was still on the sidewalk; the assailant followed me into the street traffic to punch me in the jaw again. Many people passed by, yet none stopped to help. 

I called 911 from the a nearby restaurant. The first oSan Francisco police officer to arrive ordered me to sit down, and then quickly left. Then two other officers arrived, one of whom told me that he was already on assignment at the Moscone Convention Center. Even though I had an eyewitness, and we both provided the officers with a description of the assailant and his accomplice, and I told the officers that the two were still in the vicinity on Howard St., the police did nothing. One of the cops told me, "I think the guy looks like someone from the Tenderloin."

Compare that to another incident and you get a sense of the city’s police priorities.

On Thursday afternoon, December 13, at the Muni island bus stop on Market St. at 5th, I saw two young African American men in handcuffs. They were detained by an SFPD officer, and two Muni fare inspectors. Both African American men were calm, poised, and respectful in their behavior.

One of the handcuffed men had a cell phone in his mouth while the police officer was questioning him. I thought that it was an odd situation, since the officer could have assisted him by removing the cell phone from his mouth.  I also thought that the dynamics of the situation seemed degrading and demeaning to this young man.

Within five minutes, several additional SFPD officers arrived on the scene, and then several more arrived in an unmarked large black SUV. Nearly all of the police officers were Caucasian. None was African American. 

One of the officers unzipped the second detainee's backpack.  He calmly said to the officer, "I don't have any weapon in there." I could see that the situation involved a simple Muni fare situation. Yet I saw more than ten SFPD officers responding.

I spoke with two of the passengers waiting at the bus stop to ask them what they had seen. Semetra Hampton and Laversa Frasier told me that they saw the two young males handcuffed, and that these young men never acted in any aggressive manner.

I spoke with the two young men, Wayne Price and Jamal Jones. Each received citations, one for paying a youth fare as an adult, the other for misuse of a Clipper card. Hardly serious crimes.

I contacted Officer Michael Andraychak in the Media Relations Unit at SFPD and Paul Rose, spokesperson for San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority to ask why so many officers were involved in such a minor incident.

Rose emailed to tell me that transit fare inspectors saw that the men were using youth passes and asked for identification. When they refused, the fare inspectors contacted police. Andraychack said a Muni fare inspector tried to detain the suspects, but they refused to comply and ran onto the Muni bus island. The inspectors flagged down a nearby police officer, who radioed his location and told dispatch that he was being summoned by Muni personnel for an undetermined problem. Additional officers heard this radio transmission and responded to the scene.

He noted that “Fifth Street / Market is on the border of Tenderloin and Southern Districts. Officers from both districts patrol this area and the MTA K9 officers routinely patrol the Market Street Muni Metro Stations and surface transit stops.”

I appreciate the efforts by Rose and Andraychack to provide me with the information requested.  However, their statements only tell part of the story. Some of their information does not match what I observed, nor what the eyewitnesses told me at the Muni bus stop.

I was there; I counted more than ten SFPD officers who descended on these two young men. Neither of them had done anything violent to anyone, yet their fare evasion elicited massive response.

On the other hand, there was no diligent effort by SFPD to locate, apprehend, and arrest the assailant who assaulted me, on November 9th when he and his accomplice were still in the vicinity of the attack.

Mayor Ed Lee recently proposed a policy permitting police officers to detain and search certain individuals on the street if police deemed it necessary. After vigorous protests from San Franciscans and the Board of Supervisors on the grounds that such a policy would encourage racial profiling, the mayor withdrew the plan.

Still, I have to wonder: Is sending that many officers to handle a simple Muni fare situation involving two young African American males necessary -- or is it racial profiling at its extreme? Is this how we as San Franciscans want to see our tax dollars spent -- and wasted?


Nothing here. The author is clearly better at detecting potential risk than trained police officers.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

If you're White you'd never understand anyways. You're privileged enough to never have anything like this happen to you. Consider others plights before you past judgment, and if you can't understand that if you’re White you are privileged in this country, go to college! Sociology 101 should clear that right up for you.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 8:59 am

whites to stereotype race-card players?

No hypocrisy there then?

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 9:37 am

You do know that Black males are responsible for (and victims of) most of the gun violence in the city, right? It's not racist, it's a statistical fact.

Transit stops (like car stops) often lead to the catching of criminals too stupid to pay for a fare or not run a stop sign. Remember the case of Kenneth Harding? No? Let me refresh your memory. Harding is stopped for not paying his MUNI fare. The cops start to run a background check on him. He runs and starts shooting back at the police. An officer returns fire and hits him in the leg. He trips and accidentally shoots himself in the neck.

Why did he run? Because he couldn't pay the fare? No. He ran because he: A) Was a felon in possession of a firearm. B) Was in violation of his parole in Washington for pimping an underage girl. C) Was wanted in connection with the murder of a pregnant woman in Seattle.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

whether the cops should perform some form of "affirmative action" in stopping white grandmothers to show "balance" even when everyone knows that will lead to less arrests of villians.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:54 pm

buildings. Crimes like predatory lending, laundering drug profits, tax evasion and more are committed daily in San Francisco and other cities. What we read about, like HSBC (too big to jail,) are just the tip of the iceberg.

Why aren't the police profiling the groups that are known to commit these crimes?

It's easier to harrass disenfranchised youth over a $2.00 MUNI fare, isn't it? There's lots more money being stolen off the buses and in the office suites.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 10:08 pm

of illegal white collar acts of crime and hand them over the city attorney. A city attorney who spends tax dollars attaching the city tax dollars to lawsuits at the state and federal level that have nothing to do with the city. I suspect he would find some way to act on your facts.

I can understand why you have not detailed your facts to the present DA, as he is fascist overlord. That you did not detail these crimes known to you to past DA's makes you as guilty as those who have perpetrated them.


It's odd that some folk spend so much time self serving themselves on what sort of message we are sending people here and there. Paying your "fair share" as the recording says every three minutes is very important, it teaches life lessons that the government knows what is fair and that the citizens need to obey. In enlightened SF MUNI / SFMTA has decreed what is "fair," only anarchists like Eddie would upset that paradigm, fairness is decreed by the state, unless Eddie doesn't agree.

Citizens throw off your chains and don't pay for MUNI, it will run on the good intentions of man children like Eddie.

Posted by matlock on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:46 am

MUNI and was not suggesting that people shouldn't pay their fare. Stop and frisk, racial profiling and police violence are violations of the fundamental rights of individuals.

What is more childish? Discussing the important issues raised by the article or calling people names?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 7:24 am

That's my comment.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 7:45 am

This is just insane. I can think of no possible justification for these priorities, but leave it to the trolls to think of something. Oh well, bring on teh crazy.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

I'm going to guess that through my youth and some of my odd jobs I have interacted with the cops more than you could ever hope to. I've also known some cops, and have spent time dealing with cops weird obsession with me having done something wrong while I was just walking down the street.

The number one thing to count on is that when nothing is going on every cop is going to come to whatever is going on, the number two thing to count on is when it's busy you are lucky to get a cop at all.

This doesn't mean that the cops have that great of priorities, but they don't broadcast over the radio "we got to egg plants down on Market, come one come all" one day and then broadcast "some crazy white hobo attacked someone south of Market, stay away."

The article is like the usual goofy left and right whines about "the media."

Seriously, what is wrong with you that you and the rest of you progressobots that you have to read so much into your petty lives.

Posted by matlock on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

Cops are public employees. Public employees implement public policy. Public policy should be decided by the Mayor and Board of Supervisors jointly. The SFPD resists any civilian oversight, less so from the Mayor and almost totally from the Board of Supervisors.

There is a practically infinite set of crimes that the SFPD could be enforcing. The choices on how to triage that into what can reasonably be accomplished involves prioritization. Those priorities need to be decided in a public process by elected officials and the SFPD needs to subordinate itself to civilian authority by not fighting civilian legislation and follow the law once passed.

That's not going to happen, because those with their panties in a bunch over public sector accountability tend to give the cops a pass.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

You try way to hard to pretend that the various local citizen action groups and whatnot have anything to offer the city.

These anecdotes strung together about the entitled progressives not getting what they think they deserve is ridiculous, life isn't fair.!. If the author was attacked at 10AM on Christmas every cop in the district would have been there. If the author was attacked at 10pm on Friday the author would be lucky to get a drive by from a cop. Sorry that is the real world, it sucks, all your Foucaldian exercises in power dynamics isn't going to change the actual operation of planet earth.

Posted by Maybery RFD on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

Most of the time the City is not in crisis requiring cop attention. Then the cops get to roll their own work plans day in and day out, more or less, deciding what laws they will enforce on any given day. The police need to prioritize their work plan according to what the political priorities are during the bulk of time when the City is not facing an immediate crisis. But they fight civilian oversight at every turn.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

So good, if the city was run by the progressives down to that level it would be a war zone.

Posted by Maybery RFD on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

We don't know what policing San Franciscans would prioritize if we were asked. This is not a progressive or conservative matter, it is simply a political issue of how to allocate scarce policing resources. I don't think that most San Franciscans would agree with the statement "The SFPD's enforcement priorities are the community's priorities."

Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

The recent mayoral candidates all outlined their views on crime and the police. Some candidates wanted a "soft" approach to crime - the so called "hug a thug" programs. Other candidiates were clearly more hardline and pro-police.

The more hardline and pro-police mayor own. The police chief is appointed by an elected officer. If you don't like the way SFPD operates, then vote for a different mayor.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:02 am

Nonsense, these matters are barely explored in political discourse just like development issues are off the table politically.

The only legitimate data point we have is foot patrols, which were resisted by the SFPD the whole way, resulting in veto overrides and ultimate ratification by the voters.

There is much more where foot patrols came from.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:15 am

OK, it wasn't discussed as much as jobs - easily the number one issue given that we were in a recession at the time (how quickly things can change here). But crime definitely came up as a big issue in the meetings and discussions I was part of. We may not have Oakland's problems but Sf is hardly crime-free.

Of course, you are free to get signatures on a petition for a voter initiative to creata a democratically-elected oversight committee. Or maybe for an elected police chief in the same way we elect the sheriff and the DA. Nothing is stopping you, but I have never heard much public support for that. Most people think the police should use whatever tactcis are effective and, at least in many cities with bad crime stats, that is gang curfews and "stop and frisk".

The fact remains is that the SFPD chief reports to a democratically-elected officer - the Mayor. If people don't like this mayor, they can vote for another one. there's your voter control.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:38 am


Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:46 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 10:09 am

Ad Hominem Troll.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 10:33 am

easily retreat into panicky attempts to discredit me.

Posted by Anon on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 10:45 am

The voters have spoken on police priorities and they speak a different language than the SFPD, they will most likely speak again and the SFPD will get slapped down again. Why not figure out how not to get slapped down by conforming cop priorities with community priorities? Perhaps because so many cops hold many San Franciscans in contempt even though we pay their salaries and will go to great lengths to not do their jobs? Not all cops are like this to be sure, but the core of the POA certainly is. And Cunnie got slapped down by the voters as well. The lengths that you all will go to in order to deny the gulf between those bad cops and those of us who pay their salaries is extraordinary. But from those in whom society vests extraordinary power, we must demand extraordinary accountability.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 10:59 am

works in the public sector except for the one municipal service that even right-wingers agree should be run by the government - the police. (Or, more accurately, public safety, since it also includes fire plus, at higher levels, immigration, coastguard, homeland security, secret services and of course the military).

So we have the bizarre situation that the only part of the public sector that the moderate majority actually rely on is hated by those who claim to have the majority's needs at heart.

There is a dilemma here though. While democratic control sounds great (and I'd argue we already have that by electing the SFPD's boss) what do you do if the peoples' priorities for the cops mean a huge increase in violent crime? How long do you think such a situation should last?

And that's not a hypothetical question either - just ask the folks over in Oakland.

Posted by anon on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 11:39 am


Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 11:45 am

When the progressives controlled much of the board they passed laws and set priorities that were democratic, when they lose power it's all so unfair.

Posted by matlock on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

And of course a feature of that is that they don't even realize it.

Just like how a progressive election victory is always a mandate, while a progressive election defeat is always the result of fraud or buying votes.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 9:59 am

Thanks for that reminder, Marcos! Our tax dollars pay for our police and their mismanagement of personnel is of great concern to me as it should be for every single San Francisco taxpayer. I hate seeing my hard-earned money going to racial profiling when those cops should be prioritizing violent crimes instead. I feel for the author. Anh Le could me anyone of us. Do you like getting punched in the face by a complete stranger for no f@#$ing reason??? Then have the cops do NOTHING!!!!

Posted by Yvette on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 1:23 am

violent crimes but the very group you do not want targetted. Your contribution is slef-contradictory.

The cops are democratically controlled. The SFPD chief works for an elected representative and their budget is controlled by the elected BofS.

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 10:23 am

Yvette, thanks.

Everyone, please re-read Anh Le's article.

Posted by Guest SFBG READER on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

Yvette, thanks.

Everyone, please re-read Anh Le's article.

Posted by Guest SFBG READER on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

Yessir, birng on teh carzy.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 10:06 am
Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:56 pm

lillipublicans... TS/DR

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 11:11 pm

in San Francisco. Stop and Frisk is not official policy. Or is it?

From Anh Le's account, the police dealt with the youth on the MUNI over-aggressively.

The cops bullied the teenagers in the linked video as well:


Flame on, 2nd Amendment firsters.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

The sad fact is is that young Black males are disproportionately involved in the shootings and robberies in this city. The percentage of Black males involved as either victims or perpetrators of shootings here is what? 60%? 70? If you ever read the Richmond district police blotter the number of times a Black male is listed as the perpetrator of a robbery is often 3 out of 4 times. That's an insane number for a district that is probably over 80% Asian and white.

If several Black males in sagging pants are hanging around outside of an establishment in the Richmond or Bernal then of course they are going to attract more attention from both police and normal citizens. You might not like to hear it, but if someone dresses like and act like a gangster, they're often going to be treated like a gangster.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:22 am

friend in the bank. For the crime of being frustrated with their treatment by the police, they now have to deal with an arrest, court, etc.

They weren't riding MUNI for free, sticking anybody up, carrying weapons, nothing, but because of their profile, or because they were "out of place," the police treated them like criminals.

How many patrons at cafes have been asked not to charge their electronic devices there? I'm sure plenty. Are the police usually involved? I doubt it.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 7:43 am

That's my comment.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 7:53 am

If you stop 100 young black males, you will discover more offences than if you stop 100 old white women.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 10:14 am

Constitutional rights and basic human rights are meaningless.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 10:41 am

The issue was whether cops have more success at arresting criminals if they target their attention according to what both experience and statistics indicate are the more criminal segments of soceity.

A cop who stops old women in wheelchairs will end up with less arrests than a cop who stops young black males.

So are you saying that having less arrests is an acceptible price to pay for a notional parity and a large dose of political correctness? I don't think most SF voters would agree with you.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:02 am

You're suggesting stopping every black male. How is that different?

And no, most SF voters wouldn't agree with you. If they did, Ed Lee wouldn't have been forced to retract his planned stop and frisk policy. The uproar made it untenable.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

And that was the point. They fit the profile of the group that commits the most crime (by a large amount) in the city.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

go where the crime is.

That cop could focus on white grandmothers in Pacific Heights but there would then be a very good chance they would go weeks or months without seeing a crime or arresting anyone.

However, the experience of every US city, whether it has an official "stop and frisk" policy or not, is that a focus on young black males, and also young hispanic males, then the arrest and conviction ratio is much higher.

If people want the cops to back off from observing young black males as a priority then the solution is simple - get those kids to stop committing crimes.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:00 am

weren't committing any crime.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

probably that they were than, say, the white grandmother pushing a stroller on the other side of the streets.

Half of a cop's training is knowing when something just doesn't look quite right. Good cops have a sixth sense for criminals because they see so many of them. But occasionally the instinct will let them down. Most people can live with those odds.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 1:47 pm


Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

Which is presumably why you're trying to discredit him without offering any counter.

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 10:21 am


Posted by marcos on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 10:48 am