SF Mayor Proposes Firefighters Double as Cops

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom may be a good liberal on civil liberties issues, but he needs a few lessons when it comes to fighting crime. Yesterday he proposed that the city's firefighters act as crime fighters. If he had his way, there would be a fire engine on every corner, waiting to bust an offender in the act.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom suggested Monday that the city park fire trucks and their crews on streets in violence-prone neighborhoods to deter crime....His idea is to pull the firefighters out of their firehouses, where they're stationed when not responding to fires and medical emergencies, and plant them in their rigs nearby -- visible to the public. There are 43 fire stations in San Francisco.

His suggestion was prompted by the high number of homicides in the city. His thought process is, "A thug...would be less likely to shoot someone in front of a firefighter."

But the surge in San Francisco homicides, according to the Deputy Police Chief, is a "blip."

He said the killings stemmed mainly from personal spats rather than gang disputes, which accounted for many of the homicides in early 2004. Last year's homicide rate eased in the second half of the year as police focused on hot-spot areas and chronic criminals.

Happily, the firefighters' union is having none of it:

Firefighters union chief John Hanley [said],"We're firefighters. We're not armed. My guys don't have bulletproof vests,'' Hanley said. And the one weapon firefighters do have readily available isn't an option, Hanley said. "We don't train fire hoses on people in San Francisco,'' he said.

Even the Police Chief is opposed:

... Police Chief Heather Fong is concerned that stationing fire trucks at potential crime scenes could mean crews would be tied up as crime witnesses rather than being available to respond to an emergency, Suhr said.

What's next? Ambulance drivers and paramedics with guns drawn, reading suspects their Miranda rights? Probably not, given the opposition of the firefighters themselves:

One firefighter, who didn't want his name used for fear of retribution, said his job is to put out fires, not fight crime. Fire engine companies won't respond to shootings or stabbings until police tell them the scene is secure, the firefighter said. "Nobody signed up for this job to sit on the corner and play security guard," he said.

Sorry, but Joe Firefighter playing cops and robbers is a recipe for disaster, on both ends. Mayor Newsom should focus on addressing the root cause of crime. Providing housing for the homeless and encouraging businesses to hire ex-offenders would be a good start.

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    How will a firetruck respond to a call when it is stripped and up on blocks?

    Re: SF Mayor Proposes Firefighters Double as Cops (none / 0) (#2)
    by Kitt on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 03:37:02 AM EST
    Noooo...that's one of the advantages paramedics and firefighters have over 'cops' - they're more able to get information that's relative in order to treat or protect (help). Talk about wrong-headed.

    it is more complicated and has to do with the city's loss of 98 million dollars due to poor policy decisions by Schwarzenegger. The fire dept in SF is a politically powerful cult and the union has refused to update and moderize. There are constant wars between the parametics and the firefighters and the department is not organized very efficiently. Newsom recently fired the department responsible for enforement of littering laws and is asking the park workers to donate 4 1/2 days a year to litter enforement.

    Based on recent history, I'm not surprised that Mayor Newsom would try to marry police and firefighters based on the belief they would form a solid, crimefighting union.

    Re: SF Mayor Proposes Firefighters Double as Cops (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 05:51:16 AM EST
    Don't do it Newsom...Everbody loves firefighters, don't make us distrust them.

    In SF not everyone loves the firefighters, They are not open to change had to be forced to integrate and accept women and they don't live in SF and most of them use the friendly work schedule to go to dental school. The department work rules allow -desk workers to get hazardous pay. And the new chief has a two tier standard for dealing with substance abuse.

    Using the firefighters as eyes on the street is an idea introduced by Jane Jacobs -she recommended building recreational facilities near fire stations

    Why not put a priest on every corner, with that kind of logic?

    Re: SF Mayor Proposes Firefighters Double as Cops (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 07:08:35 AM EST
    Or a camera on every corner? Oops, some cities are already doing that. Surveillance Nation.

    Newsom is also, I think, showing a genuine concern for the people of the poorer neighborhoods (Hunter's Point in particular). He's looking for solutions he can apply with the resources he has, because SF in particular is a target of overlapping budget decisions by the Federal and State Governments, combined with some very stupid governing decisions by his predecessors.

    This is the way it's done in my small community in the midwest. The cops are cops part of the month and firemen the remainder. When cops they dress like cops and drive patrol cars. When firemen they dress like firemen and hang around the fire station. It's been this way for at least 10 years here. When joining the force a person is trained in both areas and must cover both jobs.

    Re: SF Mayor Proposes Firefighters Double as Cops (none / 0) (#12)
    by Kitt on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 08:33:55 AM EST
    Kate In the small community I grew up in the firefighters were all volunteers and the town's air raid siren went off to call them to station because some of them were farmers as well. It's only been within the past 15 years that the town has actual paid firefighters and that's primarily due to incredible growth of the town as a 'bedroom community' to the capital city. What about the trust issue? How's that work?

    Re: SF Mayor Proposes Firefighters Double as Cops (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jim Strain on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 09:19:45 AM EST
    Okay, I realize there are serious policy implications here, but I can't help laughing at the image of some poor devil who's about to deal a baggie of weed suddenly being sent flying as a vigilant Fireman Fred blasts him with a fire hose. Actually, I like Newsom a lot, but this was ill-conceived. If there's a bright side to it, it's that it was Newsom's idea and not Jerry Brown's (Brown's been a damn good mayor of Oakland, and he's fixing to run for AG). . . . jim strain in san diego.

    Re: SF Mayor Proposes Firefighters Double as Cops (none / 0) (#14)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 09:27:43 AM EST
    Bottom line, once the firemen demand a raise for these additional responsibilities, this all goes away.

    Kitt As far as the "trust issue" there is not a lot of that in my community. Not b/c we feel they're incompetent or overstretching their abilities by wearing 2 hats, but primarily b/c of corruption, which of course can happen anywhere. Whichever hat they wear they usually arrive after the fact, and this is in a town of 25,000. Sorry to sound so pessimistic but that's the gist of it.

    So... if an arsonist sets a fire and is seen leaving the scene... do these guys put on their Police hats and chase the criminal or their firehats and put out the fire? Who decides? How long does this take? Apparently Newsom is chafing under the knowledge that firefighters have a lot of "down" time in the station. He doesn't seem to think they deserve it - a slap in the face and rank insult to firefighters. 'nuff said.

    1)it was a proposal 2)if you actually read what he said and don't jump to conclusions, his idea is grounded in theory and results and doesn't actually sound that stupid. No where did he propose they fight crime. He wants them to be out in the neighborhoods instead of sitting in the house. I'm sure something would be worked out where they didn't have to go sit on the street if they just fought a fire. The idea being that having people around can be a deterrent. Yeah there are things that would need to be worked out and it probably would never happen, but asking people getting paid to in a way protect the city, to just be out in the city where maybe their presence or ability to contact the police could prevent crimes or help lead to arrests, is not insane.

    While the idea of police doing fire in small towns is commonplace, SF is not a small town, and the police in SF have a VERY BAD reputation, while, naturally, SF fire in a highrise and wooden Victorian city are just about sainted. Crime has always been a problem in SF, from the start. A lot of that can be related to tourism, and a lot more can be related to the limited job market. I love SF. The first year I moved there, it snowed my first night, and I woke up with the N Judah struggling to turn with slipping wheels.

    I can see the benefits of a visible authority figure in a "hot spot", and this is does seem like a cost effective approach. As has been pointed upthread, SF firefighters might be in need of something to distract them... If the idea is, "go park your firetruck in a highly visible spot, hang out, chat with neighbors, deter crime through your presence" then I would support it. That being said, I would first argue for using the police to maximum effect, with foot patrols and community involvement in the most at-risk neighborhoods.