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Pedestrian Safety

Only One SFPD Station is “Focused on the Five” for Safer Streets: Richmond

An officer from SFPD's Richmond Station clocks speeders on Fulton Street, including some topping 60 mph in this 25 mph zone. Image: KRON 4
An officer from SFPD's Richmond Station clocks speeders on Fulton Street, with some driving as fast as 60 mph. Image: KRON 4

Nearly two years after SFPD announced its "Focus on the Five" program, only one of the 10 police stations is actually meeting its goal of issuing at least 50 percent of traffic citations for the five most common violations that cause pedestrian injuries. Department-wide, that rate was an abysmal 24 percent in September, the latest month for which data is available [PDF]. Southern Station, which covers crash-plagued SoMa, had the lowest rate with just 6 percent.

SFPD Richmond Station Captain Simon Silverman is the only captain following the "Focus on the Five" campaign. Photo: SFPD
SFPD Richmond Station Captain Simon Silverman is the only captain to follow the "Focus on the Five" campaign. Photo: SFPD

SFPD's Richmond Station is the only station meeting that goal. Richmond officers surpassed the target, in fact, issuing 58 percent of their September traffic tickets to drivers speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrians' right-of-way in crosswalks, or failing to yield to pedestrians while turning. The SFPD's data shows that just those five driver violations cause a plurality of pedestrian crashes in SF, which is why SFPD's top brass have repeatedly promised to target them and save lives.

"It's not particularly complicated," Richmond Station Captain Simon Silverman told Streetsblog. "You just have to dedicate yourself to doing it consistently."

Silverman's station has exceeded the 50 percent "Focus on the Five" goal all year, with a 56 percent rate this year to date. No other station has come close.

"It shows that it is possible" to meet the goals, SF Bicycle Coalition Policy Director Tyler Frisbee recently told the Police Commission, which has urged SFPD to pursue them. "We hope that it serves as a beacon for the rest of the police force."

To sum up his view on traffic enforcement, Silverman said commonly-accepted but dangerous behaviors, like speeding and distracted driving, need to become as much of a taboo as drunk driving has.

"People need to view safe driving as a community obligation," he said. "I think what happens is, when people are in their cars, they're isolated from their environment. It's like being in their living room, but traveling at 35 miles an hour. So I think they're kind of disconnected, and not necessarily thinking as much about other people as they should."

The Richmond District is not the city's most dangerous for walking and biking. Yet the districts with the highest rates of injuries -- namely Central, Southern, and Tenderloin -- have the lowest "focus on the five" rates. Those stations issued just 13, 13, and 6 percent of their tickets, respectively, to "the five" violations in September. That pattern has held throughout the year.

Tenderloin officers didn't issue any tickets to drivers violating pedestrians' right-of-way in September, despite its hundreds of crosswalks. However, they did manage to issue 245 tickets -- 43 percent of their total -- to pedestrians.

"These are the communities where we have the highest rates of severe and fatal injuries," Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider told the Police Commission. "Whatever the Richmond Station has been doing -- what are their best practices? How did they get to 56 percent?"

In response, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr promised to "work with Captain Silverman. We'll find out how he's getting it done."

As we reported in May, a fast-growing share of SFPD's tickets are being issued to people walking and biking. The department generally seems to have made no progress on "Focus on the Five" since then, and may even have moved backward.

The department-wide rate of tickets for "the five" in September, at 25 percent, was lower than previous rates as high as 33 percent. In that month, even the SFPD Traffic Company -- the unit specifically dedicated to effective traffic enforcement -- "focused on the five" only 24 percent of the time.

In an update presented to the Police Commission this month, Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali didn't even mention "Focus on the Five" statistics until Commission President Suzy Loftus requested them. Instead, he touted an aggregate increase in overall traffic citations.

"Clearly, there is a need to make some improvements," said Ali, who recently attended the first national Vision Zero Symposium in New York City. "I know Chief Suhr and our deputy chiefs are in constant conversation with officers to make certain that, in the course of all their duties, that they're focusing on these areas."

"You see a general increase significantly, dealing with the hazardous behaviors that go beyond the five," Ali continued, apparently not comprehending either "focus" or "the five."

Ali touted a new training video, developed with Walk SF and the SFBC, explaining the five vehicle code violations to officers, who apparently still need further training.

Ali also pointed to an overall decline in traffic injuries of 15 percent compared to last year, but it's not clear if that's at all attributable to unfocused traffic enforcement. City studies recently showed that car traffic in SF has dropped by as much as 22 percent in the last few years.

In the Richmond, Silverman said officers have focused enforcement against speeders on Fulton Street along Golden Gate Park, especially near a senior center there. Those efforts were featured in a September segment of KRON 4's People Behaving Badly, where host Stanley Roberts said some drivers were caught topping 60 mph on Fulton, despite speed limits of 25 to 35 mph.

Two children were run over by turning drivers on outer Fulton this spring. In March, police cited a driver who hit both a boy and his babysitter in a crosswalk at Fulton and 37th Avenue. In April, 3-year-old Nikita May was run over by a pickup truck driver, while riding his training bike in a crosswalk at Fulton Street and 43rd Avenue.

Silverman said catching speeders is especially important to curbing traffic violence. "Injury goes up dramatically with speed," he said.

When asked what he sees as the main challenges faced across the police department, Silverman said all stations have been coping with a "historically low level of staffing" this year. But that only seems to bolster the case for using limited enforcement resources most efficiently.

"You always have competing demands on officer time," said Silverman. "The collisions we want most to stop are the injury collisions, and they are usually caused by" the top five violations. "Some of the other violations don't lead to as much conflict."

Here's a station-by-station breakdown of SFPD's "Focus on the Five" rates in September [PDF]. Data for previous months can be found on the SFPD website.

SFPD Total
Focus on the Five Tickets: 2755 / Total: 11146
Rate: 25%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 798 / Total: 1365
Rate: 58%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 130 / Total: 1030
Rate: 13%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 41 / Total: 649
Rate: 6%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 82 / Total: 441
Rate: 19%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 207 / Total: 1087
Rate: 19%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 184 / Total: 712
Rate: 26%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 153 / Total: 920
Rate: 16%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 72 / Total: 570
Rate: 13%
(Note: 245, or 43%, went to pedestrians)

Focus on the Five Tickets: 244 / Total: 743
Rate: 33%

Focus on the Five Tickets: 339 / Total: 1218
Rate: 28%

Traffic Company
Focus on the Five Tickets: 488 / Total: 2071
Rate: 24%

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