Community members in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood are welcoming a new police captain this month with roots in the district and an intent to “get back to the basics” of neighborhood policing.
Capt. John “Joe” Garrity, a 28-year veteran of the department, began as a patrol officer in the Tenderloin and is familiar with the territory. He was later promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and captain, most recently overseeing patrols in the mid-Market area.
“I’ve been everything but the janitor here,” he said.
Tenderloin residents have suffered from the neighborhood’s reputation – well deserved, some argue–for violence, drug use and homelessness.
It’s also home to families and schools, and parents have complained their children have to step around used needles, filth and drug dealing on the way to and from class every day.
Police Chief George Gascon made the Tenderloin police station one of his first public visits last September and announced efforts to combat open-air drug dealing in the area.
He has also recently thrown his support behind a controversial ballot initiative to ban sitting or lying on public sidewalks in San Francisco between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
“We’re trying to get back to the basics,” said Garrity. He said he wants the same officers to stay on the same beats, “so the public gets to know who they can go to.”
Enforcement focus will remain on low-level nuisance crimes, but also on drug sales and stolen property, Garrity said. Undercover drug operations will be followed up by a greater police presence the next day, he said.
“We’ll get to know the players,” he said. “We’ll know who the saints and sinners are, so to speak.”
He noted a significant amount of crime in the Tenderloin is committed by people from outside San Francisco.
Garrity is the third Tenderloin police captain in the past year. He replaces Capt. Dominic Celaya, who transferred after seven months to the tactical division. Capt. Gary Jimenez served for four years before that.
“It’s usually a two-year tour,” said David Villa-Lobos, executive director of the Community Leadership Alliance, a neighborhood group that provides services and political advocacy for residents and merchants.
The group held a welcoming reception for Garrity today at the Infusion Lounge.
“Everybody’s excited here about Capt. Garrity because he started here as a beat cop,” said Villa-Lobos, 56, adding that he’s known the new captain for more than 15 years.
“We hope he stays longer than seven months,” he added.
Garrity pleased residents at a community meeting Tuesday night by handing out his cell phone number to everyone, Villa-Lobos said.
“In the Tenderloin, folks expect the captain to be very involved with community groups,” he said. “Community organizations are trying to clean up the Tenderloin, to change its identity.”