The understaffed San Francisco Police Department took nearly 15 hours to respond to a burglary call, setting off criticisms from the victims that residents have “no protection from the city.”
“Small businesses in San Francisco are getting squeezed all the time, and we have no protection from the city,” Eleanor Hayes, the wife of a bar owner that was robbed last month, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The message is, ‘You should just be happy it wasn’t worse.’”
The Black Magic Voodoo Lounge on Lombard Street was robbed on Jan. 13, and a neighbor claimed he saw three men jump out of the window of the bar, according to the outlet.
“OK, fellas! The game’s over!” neighbor Mick Martinez shouted towards the open window of the bar that morning while he was out walking his dog, according to the SF Chronicle. He then reportedly saw three men jump out of the window and into a white Ford pickup that had no license plate.
The thieves had managed to steal a stereo speaker and a trumpet worth thousands of dollars, according to the Chronicle. A safe that had been stored in the bar was also found under the window, with the suspects seemingly leaving it behind as they rushed out of the establishment.
After bar owner Joe Vernieri was alerted to the incident, he called police at 1:06 p.m. that same day. However, the dispatcher told him the police were busy, could not respond promptly – and were unable to schedule an appointment so Vernieri could speak with investigators.
“I thought they’d say, ‘Sure, we’ll be right down. I can’t believe you had a burglary. Let us help you out,’” Vernieri told the newspaper.
Police did not respond to the report until nearly 15 hours later, at 3:14 a.m. the next day – after all city bars closed at 2 a.m. Vernieri said he was asleep when the officer called him and claimed the cop left a message saying he would try him again. The bar owner said the officer did not leave his name or number and never called him back.
On Jan. 25, 12 days after the burglary, police finally physically responded to the bar, interviewed Martinez and told Vernieri they are investigating the incident. The police response followed the Chronicle asking the department questions about why the initial response took so long, which led Vernieri to question if officers ever would have ever responded to his bar if he had not spoken to the media.
“They said they’re busy, but everybody’s busy and what are you busy with?” he told the Chronicle. “It’s just sad what it takes to get it to happen. It shouldn’t be like that.”
A spokesperson for the department confirmed the timeline of the events and told the outlet that the force has been short-staffed, but that a response time of over 12 hours was not acceptable.
“While the SFPD is short-staffed and our response times have been negatively impacted as a result, a response time of over 12 hours for a call of this nature falls far short of the department’s and the public’s expectations,” Officer Robert Rueca said. “We are assessing this matter and are committed to make the necessary adjustments to address deployment, response times and provide the service expected of us.”
The San Francisco Police Department has been battered by staffing shortages in recent years, with the department seeing a 12% decrease in its number of full-duty sworn officers from 2019 to 2022, CBS News reported last month. As of last month, the force employed 1,537 police officers, far below the recommended 2,182 officers, according to city Supervisor Matt Dorsey.
“San Francisco is on the precipice of a potentially catastrophic police staffing shortage, and there are too many public safety problems we’ll be helpless to solve if we don’t start solving SFPD’s understaffing crisis first,” Dorsey said in a statement last month.
He introduced a resolution last month that would require the city to match police recruitment bonuses offered by other departments in Northern California in order to beef up staffing.
The staffing crisis comes as San Francisco has been plagued by shoplifting crimes, open drug use, a growing homeless population and murders increasing for the fourth year in a row in 2022.