The Old Town neighborhood has witnessed a significant decrease of violent crime and vandalism since the establishment of the Neighborhood Response Team, according to a report issued Wednesday by Police Chief Mike Massoni.
Massoni said that the Neighborhood Response Team, a police unit aimed at combating gang violence in the neighborhood, has resulted in a 37.5 percent decrease in violent crime and a 44 percent decrease in vandalism in a presentation to the city council.
However, though the success of the Neighborhood Response Team has tallied nearly 300 arrests and 20 handgun confiscations, the continuation of the program may result in the elimination of others deemed vital by the members of city council.
“When you get down to the bare bones,” Massoni said, “Cops on the street are my number one priority.”
The team, comprised of one sergeant and three officers, is a significant cost, Massoni said, and cuts must be made in other areas in order to maintain a balanced budget.
Among the proposed cuts made by Massoni to the council are the Gang Resistance Education and Training courses offered to sixth graders, middle school-aged children and South City families, the Hispanic Citizens Academy, high school drug resistance programs, the Citizen Academy, stranger danger classes and the Every 15 Minutes program.
“There’s not a lot of fat to trim,” Massoni said. “The only way to do this is to make the hard cuts.
The NRT was established in January 2011 after a rash of gang-related violence resulted in the killings of five young men. The city allocated $1.4 million to fund the team for a two-year period.
Councilmember Mark Addiego was vocal about his disappointment concerning the list of potential cuts presented to the council.
“Your department is bigger than these items,” he said.
Councilmember Kevin Mullin said that the programs being considered for elimination are instrumental to prevention and integration and the police department should be more aggressive in finding alternative options.
“There may be an interest in finding additional county resources,” Mullin said. “We’re going to have to be creative.”
Massoni said a possible solution would be the reorganization of the department, which could result in long-term savings.
In order for the Neighborhood Response Team to become a permanent element of the South San Francisco Police Department, Massoni requested that the council raise the staffing level of sworn officers from 79 to 83.
“There’s still some issues out there, and we’re not done with it,” Massoni said.
The police department would like to expand the efforts of the team citywide to ensure that gang-related crime is not prevalent in other neighborhoods.
The team will also be in higher demand, Massoni said, as the state of California begins to feel the weight of the statewide realignment of the parole system.
The realignment will cause an influx of prisoners on parole, Massoni said.
“They’re being released pretty much to their own devices, and they’re being released before they should be,” Massoni said.
The increase of police officers will allow the department to make sure those on probation will be visited regularly, Massoni said.
Mayor Richard Garbarino said he was not yet prepared to make a decision on the proposed increase, as the council would like to hear the police chief’s alternative budget proposals.
“I think the commitment is there for the NRT,” Garbarino said.