SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— A once crime-ridden park in San Francisco's Mission District is now teeming with community activity and the credit is going to a new unit within the police department.
On any given day Garfield Park's playground, nestled between Harrison, Treat and 24th and 25th streets, along with its basketball courts and soccer field are filled with children. Until its recent transformation, it wasn't always this way.
"Before we used to have a lot of violence, a lot of shootings back to back," said Gaynor Ansiataga. She has a nine-year-old son. In 2004 she moved into the Bernal Dwellings Housing Development across the street from the park.
Community Police Program Turns Around Once Crime-Ridden Park In San Francisco's Mission
"With that kind of life you have kids who are afraid to come out," she said.
Last September the SFPD's new Youth and Community Engagement Unit began stationing officers in the park for their entire shifts.
Lieutenant Colleen Fatooh heads the unit and said she now has an office in the park's clubhouse. "It's working very well. The park's very activated. We get lots of kids to come out here to play." She said not only does the constant police presence and patrol keeps the criminal element that used to dominate the park at bay, but it helps the department build trust with families in the area—a key area of community-based policing.
"It's cops working with kids; changing the perception of the police with the community and just building relationships," Fatooh said.
One 13-year-old girl, who's lived in the neighborhood her whole life, said she feels a lot safer and now brings her little brother to the park.
One community group— Mission Education Project, Inc.'s director, Rita Alviar, said in the past she wouldn't even bring her summer program children here. Now they come almost every day.
"As long as I see it like it is now, we will continue coming," she said.
The police unit is planning a similar presence at a Sunnydale playground this week.
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