muni_driver.jpgSan Francisco police Chief George Gascon joined four city supervisors and other community organizers today to announce a new “community ambassadors” program launched in response to recent violence and tensions in the southeast part of the city.

The pilot program features a dozen ambassadors who will ride along the San Francisco Municipal Railway’s T-Third and 9-San Bruno lines to provide residents with safety tips, emergency numbers, language assistance, and access to information on city services and programs.

A handful of attacks on Asian and senior citizen victims in the southeast part of the city earlier this year prompted the development of the program, according to Gascon, who was joined at today’s event by Supervisors David Chiu, Carmen Chu, Eric Mar, and Sophie Maxwell.

“It speaks volumes about the commitment to make sure we work together,” Gascon said.
The program was developed and implemented by the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, a division of the city administrator’s office.

Adrienne Pon, the executive director of that division, said the program “is about the community, and was initiated by the community.”

The ambassadors, most of which are Bayview or Visitacion Valley residents, speak a total of seven languages: English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, Samoan and Hawaiian.

They will be traveling along the Muni lines between morning and evening hours to provide the various services and act as a visible presence that reassures residents and encourages unity and civic participation.

The ambassadors will also be equipped with pre-programmed cell phones provided by AT&T for communication needs during the program, but they will not be armed.

“They don’t carry big sticks but will carry big smiles,” Pon said.

Chiu said he hopes the program will “move the healing process forward” while Chu said its theme of collaboration between public agencies, private businesses and residents “really does model and emulate what we want to see happen across San Francisco.”

The announcement came the same day the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office announced it is seeking a civil injunction against two warring gangs in the city’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood.

Gascon said injunctions are a “powerful tool” when thoughtfully implemented, but he said “they’re not a cure-all; they’re a complement” to other methods such as the ambassador program.

“It’s important to understand that public safety is a community responsibility,” he said.

The ambassadors, who were selected from participants of the city’s Jobs Now program, have trained with police and Muni officials for the past two weeks and will be working in the area until mid-September.

Pon said the city would be seeking private and foundation funding for a longer-term or permanent ambassador program after the pilot program ends in mid-September.

“This is the first step; many more efforts are needed,” she said. “We’ve just got to figure out how we’re all going to live together peacefully.”

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