police-light-bar1.jpgSan Francisco city officials gathered in San Francisco’s Chinatown today to encourage merchants and shoppers to stay safe and report crime tips during upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations.

The Chinese New Year, also known as the lunar new year, starts on Feb. 3, and the holiday is expected to attract many shoppers – and potentially criminals – to the Chinatown neighborhood, authorities said.

The public awareness campaign is a way to educate Asian-American merchants and residents about crime issues in their community, said police Capt. Kevin Cashman, the commanding officer of the Central Police Station, which handles the Chinatown area.

Crimes “from extortion to burglary, robbery, fraud, and identity theft” are still common in the area, and when people “do become victims, it’s imperative that they report it,” Cashman said.

District Attorney George Gascon reiterated the importance of the Chinese community working with law enforcement to solve crimes.

“The community should know that we’re here to support you,” Gascon said. “People work hard to retain these businesses, and there’s no reason why they should give money to some of these thugs that come around and try to swindle their money.”

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who was also on hand for today’s event, admitted that when he grew up in the Chinatown area, people often did not report crimes to police “because we weren’t sure whether or not anyone was going to take care of our needs.”

“This department is, in fact, responsive to our community, and we ought to just make those reports, and help keep all of us safe in these celebratory times of the Chinese New Year,” Yee said.

The Police Department will have extra foot patrols and uniformed patrol officers in the area around the holiday period, acting police Chief Jeff Godown said.

“We want to make this a safe place for the business community members as well as the tourists,” Godown said.

A group of city officials, including Gascon, Godown, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisor Carmen Chu, went up and down Grant Street in Chinatown this afternoon to hand out flyers to business owners.

“Only by working together can we reduce crime,” Chiu said.

Anyone who witnesses a crime in progress or other emergency should dial 911, while non-emergency calls should be made to (415) 553-0123.

People wishing to remain anonymous can call either (415) 553-8090 or the department’s tip line at (415) 575-4444. Reports can also be made online at www.sfgov.org/police.

The department has many multi-lingual speakers for people who do not speak English, police said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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