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Pedestrian Safety

SFPD Increasing Tickets for Pedestrians Faster Than Tickets for Drivers

SFPD's "Focus on the Five" tickets for dangerous driving violations dropped 6 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to that of last year. Image: SFPD
SFPD's "Focus on the Five" tickets dropped 6 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to that of last year. Image: SFPD

First, the good news: In the last quarter of 2014, SFPD increased speeding enforcement 91 percent, from 933 to 1,781 citywide.

The bad news? Tickets to pedestrians more than doubled, from 436 to 1,110, continuing a recent trend of increasing tickets for people walking and biking faster than those for dangerous driving. All told, pedestrian fines accounted for 3.6 of total traffic citations in San Francisco, up from 1.7 percent over the same period the year before.

More than two years into the SFPD's "Focus on the Five" campaign, the department still shows no signs of changing an agency culture that seems unable to prioritize enforcement of motorist behavior that endangers life and limb.

SFPD Traffic Commander Ann Mannix. Image: SFGovTV
SFPD Traffic Commander Ann Mannix. Image: SFGovTV

At a supervisors committee hearing yesterday, SFPD Traffic Commander Ann Mannix, who took her post in January, expressed no intention of meeting the department's official goal of issuing 50 percent of traffic citations to the top five most dangerous violations, which are all driver violations.

Mannix presented SFPD's latest enforcement stats [PDF], showing dismal progress. The share of "Focus on the Five" tickets increased just two percent last year compared to 2013, from 22 percent to 24 percent. The trend is looking worse so far in 2015: In the first quarter of the year, the share of "Five" tickets dropped by 6 percent compared to the year before.

"We won't change much from 2014 to 15," Mannix told the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee. "I believe that you'll see the numbers rise. Will we be at 50 percent? I don't think so. Richmond District will be at 50 percent."

Richmond Station continues to be the only station to meet the 50 percent goal. Mannix asserts that SFPD can't meet its self-imposed Focus on the Five goal because officers can't be choosy about what they enforce, and that police staffing is occupied with non-traffic duties.

Mannix repeated the argument of her predecessor, Mikail Ali, that the SFPD is increasing traffic enforcement overall, with a 54 percent increase in total traffic citations between 2013 and 2014.

But that statistic masks troubling enforcement trends. For instance, tickets for failure-to-yield, a leading cause of pedestrian fatalities, actually declined in the last quarter of 2014 compared to the last quarter of 2013, from 104 to 81.

Numbers of citations issued between the last quarters of 2013 and 2014. Image: SFPD
Numbers of citations issued between the last quarters of 2013 and 2014. Image: SFPD

Arguing that total traffic citations are increasing misses the point of "Focus on the Five," Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara told Streetsblog. "It's not a matter of resources. It's not a matter of prioritizing traffic enforcement," she said. "The point is to make sure people know it's not okay to speed, to not yield to people in the crosswalk."

At the hearing, Police Commission President Suzy Loftus framed the issue by pointing to an "old saying" mentioned in the recent Interim Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing: "Organizational culture eats policy for lunch."

"Often times, you can have a policy that's the right thing," said Loftus, "but without the leadership of folks like Chief Suhr, Commander Mannix, and Commander Ali, to actually make change and get the department to really take a different approach to enforcing citations, we really wouldn't have the results."

Mannix explained away Richmond Captain Simon Silverman's ability to meet "Focus on the Five" goals by saying he has fewer crimes like homicides to worry about. "He has the luxury of dedicating officers just to do traffic," she said. She also pointed out that the Richmond has many stop signs, unlike districts like Tenderloin, even though most of Richmond's "Five" tickets are issued for speeding. Stop sign violations are the second-most common.

Image: SFPD
Image: SFPD

"It's not about enforcing every traffic violation," said Ferrara. "When you do enforcement, what percentage of it is going to things that are killing people? It's something that every officer can do when they're doing traffic enforcement."

Ferrara said she sees some signs of hope that SFPD's culture could change. Walk SF recently helped SFPD create a video explaining Vision Zero that all officers are now required to watch. "We hope it makes a difference this year."

There's even a glimmer of hope at Tenderloin Station. In the first quarter of this year, Tenderloin's "Five" tickets increased 80 percent compared to last year.

But Tenderloin Station set the bar low. In 2014, the station issued 3,054 tickets -- nearly half of its traffic citations -- to pedestrians. That's more than four times as many as all of its "Five" violations that year, which comprised only 10 percent of tickets.

"The largest shift I've seen is from captains who have demonstrated leadership," said Ferrara. It's going to take greater effort from SFPD to make that shift permeate through the ranks.

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