SF traffic cops only issue 10 quotes a day

Given all of the extremely dangerous driving on the streets of San Francisco, issuing traffic lights should be a tight order for city cops. Tickets can fall like scraps of paper at the Warriors Tournament Parade.

A new analysis of every traffic light issued by the San Francisco police over the past four and a half years shows that enforcement of the rules of the road has fallen sharply. Incredibly, the 45 officers working in the department’s traffic department have released 10 aggregate quotes per day this year.

Yes, in a city with nearly half a million registered cars, a ticket is written every two and a half hours on average. That’s a huge drop in just three years: In 2019, the department issued an average of 74 traffic quotes per day — or about one every 20 minutes.

Sgt. Davin Cole (left) and Officer Robert Roica of the San Francisco Police Department respond to a car crash in June 2019.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2019

“This is very interesting and frightening, frankly,” said Stephen Braich, a Safe Streets advocate and data analyst who requested and shared the information from the police department.

“What are they doing exactly?” He asked him about the cops, a question many San Franciscans have asked in recent months after a series of cases where the police didn’t seem to be doing much policing.

Officer Catherine Winters, a spokeswoman for the SFPD, said the traffic department is at its lowest hiring level in 30 years and that in 2019, it had 69 officers. The current 45 officers have other duties besides issuing citations, including investigating collisions, assisting with efforts to increase the police presence at Tenderloin, and managing crowds at rallies and marches.

“Officers assigned to the Traffic Company continue to go out every day to balance all of these obligations while continuing to carry out their primary mission of enforcing traffic safety in San Francisco,” Winters said in a statement.

She said the Traffic Department conducted a speeding enforcement operation last Wednesday — the day after the department sent questions for this column — in the South Market area, issuing three citations as well as additional warnings. I can park outside The Chronicle newsroom on Fifth Street and Mission Streets in SoMa and spot three illegal driving maneuvers in five minutes.

Luke Bornheimer, a Safe Streets advocate who worked with Braitsch analyzing the quotes, said, “People recognize the fact that the police are not really doing their jobs. We know the streets are dangerous because people think, and rightly so, that no one will stop them.”

Braitsch, who lives in Haight, requested the data in May after he became angry at cars speeding through his neighborhood without any repercussions. Most city streets have a speed limit of 25 mph, but many drivers ignore it. Braitsch analysis data runs through May 23 this year.

The SFPD’s plunge in traffic enforcement comes amid a national reckoning over police abuse, and continuing evidence that many officers are racist drivers. Some civil rights advocates want law enforcement to be removed from the duties of police officers and to be assigned to unarmed civilians instead.

Parking control officer Dan Ryan cites illegally parking a car in front of a house in January.
Parking control officer Dan Ryan cites illegally parking a car in front of a house in January.

Bronte Whitbyn/The Chronicle

But that hasn’t happened yet – nor is automated speed enforcement adopted. For now, it’s police or nothing when it comes to signaling dangerous drivers.

Neither Braitsch nor Bornheimer want more police officers in San Francisco, but they argue that the administration can do more effective work with the officers, money, and equipment they already have.

In 2014, the city adopted the “Vision Zero” pledge to eliminate traffic deaths within a decade. The police department was a key part of that commitment, pledging that half of its traffic citations would be for the five behaviors most likely to lead to accidents: speeding, running red lights, crossing stop lights, and not obeying pedestrians in crosswalks. , and failure to surrender while turning left or turning backward.

But only 35% of the scant number of quotes issued in San Francisco since 2018 were for those five violations, while the majority were for behaviors unlikely to harm anyone else — such as expired signs, suspended licenses, tinted windows and broken taillights, and analysis. . have found.

In lower-income and more diverse neighborhoods—including Tenderloin, Chinatown, and Bayview-Hunters Point—a higher proportion of citations were made for these relatively minor infractions. People of color always seem to bear the brunt of enforcement, even the thinner porridge that San Francisco offers.

Meanwhile, only 32% of citywide citations are issued on the High Injury Network – 13% of city streets where 75% of deaths and major injuries occur. These include busy avenues such as Geary Boulevard, Van Ness Avenue, and 19th Avenue, as well as nearly every street in Tenderloin.

Brech and Bornheimer argue that the department’s 50 traffic officers would be more effective if they directed their citations to the five bad driving behaviors that occur on the high-injury grid.

But this does not happen, and the result is expected. Already this year, 18 people have died in traffic crashes on the streets of San Francisco, a number that puts the city on target to match the 31 deaths in 2014 that prompted the “Vision Zero” commitment in the first place. Hundreds of others are seriously injured on the streets of San Francisco every year but survive.

The drop in traffic lights reflects what many city residents say is a drop in policing in general. There were the officers who arrived when they broke into a cannabis dispensary in Haight in November and saw someone walking out of the building, jumping into a car and driving away. There were squatters who parked Mercedes and BMWs in front of a house in Bernal Heights early this year, set up a drug den inside, destroyed property and were allowed to leave by police without any repercussions.

There was a San Francisco Wine Society park that was destroyed by a vandal in December – thanks in part to police officers who, according to camera footage, arrived halfway through the devastation and left, allowing it to continue.

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