She says officers let vandal go after her SF parklet was trashed. Are city's police doing enough to fight crime? – San Francisco Chronicle

Toasting at the reopening of the San Francisco Wine Society’s parklet are Joan Reese (left), Judy Heggie, Desa Belyea, Helen Johnson and Janet Boreta, fondly dubbed the Golden Girls.
For months, the parklet at the San Francisco Wine Society was a rare bright spot in the Financial District, a depressing ghost town for the past two years. Danielle Kuzinich filled it with plush furniture and electric fireplaces, decorated it with bouquets and hung chandeliers.
Thirty percent of her business came from the parklet, much of it from regulars like a group of older women from the Gateway apartments, whom Kuzinich dubbed the Golden Girls. They parked their walkers each Tuesday at 5 p.m. to chat over rosé and wild mushroom flatbread in one of the few safe places they could gather during the pandemic.
Kuzinich won an award from the Chamber of Commerce: best parklet in the city.
But on Dec. 31, the restaurant owner received a call that someone had trashed her prized space just before dawn, busting through boards that had been placed alongside it and secured with dozens of locks to protect it overnight.
Danielle Kuzinch opens a barrier securing the newly rebuilt Wine Society parklet.
The vandal tore out the parklet’s windows and fireplaces, ripped up its carpet and wallpaper and dragged everything — even a Christmas tree — across the street to create a pile of parklet detritus.
But that wasn’t the only disturbing revelation. Turns out, two city police officers arrived midway through the vandalism spree, spoke with the man and left.
Security camera footage from a business across the street shows the interaction between the cops and the man, who continued to tamper with the parklet after the officers departed, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage and costing Kuzinich an estimated $40,000 in business as she repaired it.
The episode raises a question that’s been asked by many San Francisco residents and business owners for years: What is the Police Department doing?
Too often, the answer is not much.
The shrug over the parklet destruction is just one more example of police seeming to throw up their hands and ignore crime rather than deal with it . The Chronicle broke the story in November that officers responded to a 911 call about a possible burglary at a cannabis dispensary and watched as a person exited the building, hopped in a car, executed a three-point turn in front of police vehicles and drove away. Police did not respond to repeated requests for an update in that investigation.
While shocking, these stories aren’t new. For years, San Franciscans have described calling 911 to report a crime only to have police show up and say there’s nothing they can do — if they show up at all.
Police say they’re struggling with increased scrutiny, a staffing shortage, sinking morale and a district attorney who they say won’t prosecute many crimes. Whatever the reasons, some officers seem to have turned into bureaucratic fillers of forms rather than crime-solvers.
“I’m speechless at this point,” Kuzinich told me, after weeks spent futilely trying to get answers about her damaged parklet from the Police Department and District Attorney’s Office. “This is ridiculous. No one is doing anything.”
Officer Robert Rueca, a police spokesperson, said officers responded to the parklet after being notified of its destruction by firefighters at a station down the street, but that officers “saw no signs … that a crime was committed by the subject. The subject was released on scene.”
Kuzinich was dumbstruck by that response — and she certainly isn’t alone in her disbelief.
In December, I wrote about a Tenderloin mom who reported to police that a stranger had just struck her in the head, but officers did little about it. That prompted numerous emails and calls with similar accounts.
Kevin Ward, a Bernal Heights resident, witnessed the break-in of his neighbor’s home on Nov. 30. After he entered the house and screamed at a man in a ski mask who fled, he heard footsteps upstairs. His neighbor, away on vacation and alerted to the break-in by a phone app, had simultaneously called 911. Police responded but did not enter the house. They stayed on the sidewalk so long, the person upstairs apparently managed to escape, Ward said.
Danielle Kuzinch shows a photo of the extensive damage done to her restaurant’s popular facility.
The neighbor talked to police on the phone and asked them to check whether the burglars had stolen the keys to a car parked out front. The keys were indeed missing, but police said they could do nothing to protect the car. The next day, the car was stolen.
Ward said the officers talked about “the disdain for the current state of affairs and the futility of it all” and seemed totally uninterested in apprehending the burglars.
“I was horrified,” Ward said, noting that the city’s ineffective leaders and increasing sense of lawlessness are worrying. “We’re just a mess!”
Officer Niccole Pacchetti, a police spokesperson, confirmed that police responded to the Bernal Heights home, but said officers arrived after all the intruders had fled the scene, an account Ward disputed. “Officers processed the scene for evidence and authored an incident report,” Pacchetti said, not answering a question about the accusation that police did nothing about the car. Ward said he didn’t know what to do about the car and that the officers wouldn’t even discuss possible solutions.
Nilesh Vora also had a disappointing response after falling victim to a crime in San Francisco. The director of oncology at a Long Beach hospital visited San Francisco on Jan. 19 for a cancer conference at Moscone Center. A friend picked him up at the airport, and they stopped for dinner in Hayes Valley. After dinner, they realized someone had broken into his friend’s car and emptied her trunk — including all of Vora’s luggage.
He could tell from an app on his phone that his stolen laptop was in an apartment at Franklin Street and Golden Gate Avenue and called 911 to request police help in getting it back. The dispatcher, he said, told him to wait on the corner. He waited for more than 90 minutes, he said, but officers never showed up.
“There was this lack of empathy and lack of care when I was standing there at midnight,” he said. “It was this very disturbing feeling.”
He said he won’t return to San Francisco, a city he’s loved visiting in the past and one that relies on money from tourists and conventions to function.
Hongzhi Liu is a father of three who lives in Castro Valley and works two jobs: at a telecommunications company and driving for Uber. He was doing the latter at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 30 in Glen Park when another driver, speeding, blew a stop sign and slammed into his car. The other driver refused to turn over her driver’s license and insurance information, and Liu lay across the hood of her car in attempt to prevent her from driving away.
A neighbor heard Liu screaming “Call 911! Call 911!” and did just that. But police didn’t show up for two hours, by which time the other driver had called her boyfriend — and fled on his moped. Liu tried making headway at Ingleside Station, giving police photos of the other driver and her license plate, but said police brushed him off there, too. Now, he’s on the hook for a large deductible if Uber pays to fix the damage to his car.
“I just wasted my time,” he said. “I didn’t get anything.”
A bartender serves wine to a group of friends dubbed the Golden Girls who gather on Tuesdays at San Francisco Wine Society’s parklet.
Malia Cohen, president of the Police Commission, was speechless when I told her about the incidents. She asked for time to collect her thoughts before later texting, “We expect our officers to vigorously pursue criminal activity. If they do not fulfill these responsibilities — absent a compelling reason, such as to preserve an ongoing surveillance — there should be accountability for the officers involved.”
Pacchetti, the police spokesperson, said she couldn’t find any police reports regarding the cancer doctor’s stolen belongings or the Glen Park car crash.
“We encourage anyone who thinks they are the victim of a crime to contact us so we can fully investigate the incident,” she said. That’s what the callers said happened in each of these cases, though, and the callers didn’t get much help.
As for the vandalized parklet, Officer Rueca and Kuzinich both said police were notified by firefighters at Station 13 just down the block who witnessed the destruction and that officers responded to the scene.
Security camera footage from a hotel across the street shows what happened next. I viewed the footage, but the hotel refused to allow it to be shared with Chronicle readers. It shows that the officers talked to a firefighter who appeared to motion at the vandal, sitting next to the pile of parklet debris, and then return to his station.
Officers then searched the man, looked in the parklet, motioned for him to move on, left the destroyed property strewn around, and drove off. The man quickly returned to the parklet to continue vandalizing it before the firefighter came back with two burly looking co-workers. The trio kicked the man out and cleaned up the area.
Rueca described the man in question as “mentally disturbed” and said police found no active warrants for his arrest before releasing him.
Kuzinich said she grew increasingly outraged after getting the runaround from the department for weeks. One person at the department, she said, asked her, “What do you want from us?”
What she wanted was accountability for the man who ruined her parklet, saying it’s not good for anyone, including the man in question, for him to be left on the streets with whatever mental illness or drug addiction led him to destroy a parklet. On Thursday, she visited the city’s Department of Police Accountability to file a complaint, but was told she couldn’t file the complaint in person and could do it online only.
She also phoned the District Attorney’s Office to ask if she could benefit from victim services, but said it didn’t respond for weeks either. When I emailed the office about the case on Wednesday, she got a call within an hour. Someone in the victim services unit said a COVID-19 emergency had caused the delay, Kuzinich said. She said three people from the office met with her via Zoom on Wednesday to learn about her case.
Rachel Marshall, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, said helping victims “is a top priority” even if police don’t make an arrest. She said the office is “deeply disturbed” by reports of police officers telling crime victims the D.A. won’t prosecute.
“We cannot prosecute a crime when SFPD does not make an arrest or present a case to us,” she said.
Police acknowledge they have morale challenges. In his most recent essay in the Police Officers Association journal, union President Tony Montoya wrote about a crisis of police officers resigning and retiring because of more outside scrutiny and those left on the job feeling deflated.
“They’re tired. They’re frustrated,” he wrote. “And there’s no help in sight.”
Montoya didn’t return a request for further comment.
In a recent video, Police Chief Bill Scott acknowledged he’s “not proud” of the department’s response times for low-level crimes, which a recent report by an outside consulting group called among the worst in the nation. Scott blamed staffing problems and has said the department has 25% fewer officers than it should.
Data backs up anecdotes about police in retreat. These days, traffic enforcement has pretty much stopped. In September 2014, officers issued 10,801 traffic citations. In September 2021, they issued 824. Removing police from traffic enforcement is a noble goal, but nobody’s taken their place as pedestrians and bicyclists continue to get killed and injured in high numbers.
Property crime rates are high, while arrest rates are low. Last year, police cleared just 6.2% of reported property crimes. Mayor London Breed’s controversial call for more policing in the Tenderloin hasn’t yet become a reality. Seeing police walking the beat is rare.
Frank Falzon, a retired homicide inspector who worked on famous San Francisco cases including the Zodiac, Zebra and Night Stalker killings, said he’s sad to see current officers do so little proactive policing, including walking the beat. He said if you can get the same paycheck for driving around and filing reports for crimes that have already happened, it’s easier than interrupting a crime in progress and putting yourself at risk of physical harm and your career at risk because of increased scrutiny.
“Why stick your neck out and get involved?” he said. “The only one who’s really losing are the good people of San Francisco.”
Some good people of San Francisco — the Golden Girls from the Gateway apartments — were back in the San Francisco Wine Society’s parklet Tuesday evening, their favorite hangout fully restored. They said they were devastated by its destruction.
“It hurt me like a knife plunged into my stomach!” exclaimed Sharon Elsen. “Danielle works so hard and has put her life’s blood into this. To have this happen was just appalling, and the police added insult to injury by not doing anything.”
Helen Johnson, 85, said it was great to be back there with her friends.
“She’s taken such pains to create a beautiful space,” Johnson said.
Twice now. Let’s hope that this time, it sticks.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Email: Twitter: @hknightsf
Heather Knight is a columnist working out of City Hall and covering everything from politics to homelessness to family flight and the quirks of living in one of the most fascinating cities in the world. She believes in holding politicians accountable for their decisions or, often, lack thereof – and telling the stories of real people and their struggles.
She co-hosts the Chronicle’s TotalSF podcast and co-founded its #TotalSF program to celebrate the wonder and whimsy of San Francisco.


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