Capt. Richard Corriea: We need more watch groups

In the early evening of Dec. 29, 2009, a 60-year-old Richmond District resident was getting out of his car after pulling into his garage on the 100 block of Ninth Avenue. Suddenly, he was set upon by a suspect who struck him several times, causing serious facial wounds and lacerations. The suspect knocked the victim to the ground, demanded the victim's personal possessions and then fled, leaving the traumatized victim bleeding profusely.

Richmond Station officers responded immediately. Moments after the first uniformed officers arrived at the scene an inspector from the station's newly-created investigative team responded to the scene and commenced a formal follow-up investigation. Members of the station's plain-clothes unit, or "35 Team," saturated the area looking for the suspect and evidence. Unfortunately, the suspect was able to make good his escape along with the victim's personal property. The victim was rushed to a near-by hospital by ambulance for treatment.

This crime was particularly shocking even to the most experienced officers because of the seriousness of the injuries and the suspect's compassionless, unnecessary and abusive actions. It also put an Inner Richmond neighborhood on notice that while they live in a safe area they need to stay alert for risks. In the first few days after the incident our police team members and their supervisors followed up relentlessly on what little evidence they had and canvassed an expanding area for witnesses.

It's when leads are few that an investigator's experience and tenacity count the most. Couple these traits with commitment to service and you have police officers that will, as we say in the police statistical world, "clear the case."

I am somewhat limited in what information I can release when a case is under investigation or being prosecuted, and this is sound policy. However, when you are as inspired as I am by the superlative work of Richmond Station's officers it's a little difficult to lower the volume. I am glad to report that a suspect was arrested in mid-January and the victim, while still receiving treatment, is expected to recover fully from his physical injuries.

Between the time of the incident and the arrest of the suspect our officers used every investigative tool at their disposal. They crawled about on the wet ground and in bushes looking for clues, they did stakeouts, served search warrants and they sought out help from investigators from other districts. They watched and they waited. They worked the computer databases and they followed up on every lead, even ones that were long shots. Some of their endeavors were just simple low-tech traditional police practices. Others, however, would have been considered science fiction just a few years ago. They reviewed video data captured by cameras located in local businesses. We had help from the private sector and our crime lab's work in this case would make a CSI episode seem boring. Our Hall of Justice investigative support teams were with us every step of the way and the SF District Attorney's Office provided guidance for our investigators.

At the end of the day, we have a safer community because one dangerous predator is in custody charged with multiple violent felonies, including robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, assault resulting in serious bodily injury and possession of stolen property. Bail for the suspect is set at $2 million. A preliminary hearing is set for the week of Feb. 1, and I will report next month on the outcome of that hearing.

The investigating officers in this case have moved on to new cases; however, before they did we took a moment to acknowledge them for a job well done and for choosing a career for which they are well suited. I am delighted to work with police officers such as those who handled this case and to live in the district that they protect. I also feel strongly that the successes in this case validate the recent police department reorganization which put inspectors at each district station. We now have investigators where we need them, when we need them.

After many years in police work, I am convinced that the best way to keep our neighborhoods safe is by residents watching out for one another. Crime, like I have described above, can serve as a catalyst for neighbors becoming acquainted with one another and creating networks that will make their neighborhood safer. San Francisco SAFE can assist in organizing neighborhood watch groups and can provide free crime prevention information. Irina Chatsova, an SF SAFE crime prevention specialist, and I have agreed to focus this year on increasing the number of neighborhood watch block groups in the Richmond. In the months to come I hope to be visiting with many of you in your homes to support a group on your block. If you have questions about neighborhood watch groups, you can call Chatsova at 553-1968, go to the Web site at, or me at 666-8030.

Please attend the next Community/Police Forum on Feb. 16, at 1 p.m., at the Richmond Recreation Center auditorium, which is located at 351 18th Ave. We will have a representative from Sunset Scavenger to answer your questions about their services and recycling issues.

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Capt. Richard Corriea is the commanding officer at the Richmond Station.