The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has a new unit focused on supporting diverse communities, Mayor London Breed announced last week.
Created under the department’s Community Engagement Division, the Community Liaison Unit specifically aims to help “victims of hate crimes and prejudice-based incidents,” which, for Asian Americans, have gotten worse since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Five officers will identify patterns, devise intervention techniques and help victims navigate the criminal justice system when reporting such incidents. They will support existing Community Liaison Officers at each of the 10 SFPD district stations.
Aside from Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, the unit will serve as a liaison to African Americans, Latinx Americans, LGBTQ, and Muslim communities with limited English proficiency and senior residents of the city. It will also work with the Investigations Bureau, the Media Relations Unit and the District Attorney’s Office.
Video recorded in the San Francisco area shows a black man stealing cans from an East Asian man & attempting to hit him. The people around laugh. The cameraman, who posted this on Instagram, says, “I hate Asians.” @SFPD is asking for witnesses. pic.twitter.com/HpIAHcGw2y
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) February 25, 2020
More than 2,500 anti-Asian incidents have been reported throughout the U.S. since mid-March. Of those, 46% came from California.
Reported cases range from vandalism to verbal harassment to physical attacks.
“Building trust and communication between law enforcement and diverse communities is crucial to keeping our communities safe. With anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes on the rise, this new program will be especially beneficial for our API communities navigating this difficult time,” Assemblymember David Chiu said of San Francisco’s Community Liaison Unit.
It is believed that many of the attacks against Asian Americans amid the COVID-19 crisis have gone unreported. Possible reasons include language barriers, fear of retaliation and distrust of the police.
The new SFPD unit seeks to ensure that the diverse communities feel safe and comfortable working with officers. Representatives will be present in community meetings and focus on “getting to know the community well, building partnerships and establishing trust.”
“This new unit within our Community Engagement Division will support our ongoing efforts and ensure that the City’s diverse communities feel safe and comfortable working with SFPD officers. Maintaining this trust and cooperation with the community is essential to our crime prevention mission and in solving crimes when they do occur,” San Francisco Police Chief William Scott said.
To encourage reporting, the unit will offer crime tip lines for non-English speakers over the coming months and improve communications with monolingual residents through the use of WeChat, among other platforms.
“As someone who has had over 30 years of experience in working with our seniors and monolingual Chinese residents, I am excited, grateful and hopeful for this newly formed SFPD unit to work with our community. This new unit will help address the underlying causes of some of the safety issues in a linguistically and culturally competent way,” said Marlene Tran, spokesperson of the Visitacion Valley Asian Alliance, current Southeast Community Facility Commissioner and former Immigrant Rights Commissioner.
The unit is expected to work seamlessly with other initiatives in the city. Breed and the Human Rights Commission recently launched the “Stand Together” campaign, which aims to combat discrimination against people of color.
“We want to make sure that anyone who is a victim of a hate crime or any other crime motivated by prejudice knows that their City and their Police Department is there to help them. This new unit will give the community a place to turn to when they need assistance, and where they know they’ll be treated with dignity and respect,” said Breed.
Feature Image via Getty