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California City Solutions: Redwood City Improves Public Safety at Major Transit Hub, Shopping Center with Project SAFE

January 16, 2015
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Redwood City’s Project Safe program was submitted in 2014 for the League Partners Award for Excellence in City-Business Relations award category.

The Redwood City Police Department developed Project SAFE to address public safety concerns in the Sequoia Station Shopping Center and adjacent public transit hub. Launched in August 2013, the program uses a multi-faceted approach and is a collaboration of the police department, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Transit Police, the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, business owners, property management representatives, and mental health facilitators. Residents and commuters have acknowledged the increase in safety and quality of life since Project SAFE.Redwood-City-Before-Project-SAFE.png
Sequoia Station and the neighboring transit center were experiencing blight and criminal activity ranging from public intoxication and aggressive panhandling to narcotics sales and physical assaults, associated with mental illness and homelessness. The police department created Project SAFE in response to complaints from residents, business owners, and commuters, and to maintain a dynamic problem-solving approach. The implementation of sustainable change became the primary focus during the project’s development.
Prior to l Project SAFE, the police department examined public safety factors in the affected area. The transit hub serves as a major rail line station in San Mateo County and hosts 72 trains of more than 40,000 rail commuters and a busing hub with 1,145 passengers daily. The Sequoia Station retail center serves a large segment of the mid-peninsula communities and is home to approximately 36 businesses.
The police department identified a number of issues affecting the retail and transit area including:
  • Crime and Disorder Criminal violations covering a range of issues. Some could be characterized as direct criminal conduct, however many issues related to conduct that was non-criminal in nature including mental health, homelessness and substance addiction.Redwood-City-removed-planters.png
  • Mental Health Issues Sequoia Station has been known as a gathering location for individuals who have received, or are currently receiving treatment for various mental health conditions. The police department learned that multiple mental health service providers and nearby residential care homes routinely sent or transported mental health clients to Sequoia Station in an attempt to facilitate their clients' societal acclimation. The most significant concern was whether these individuals were receiving the resources and appropriate supervision they needed. 
  • Homelessness Police officers encounter homeless individuals at Sequoia Station on a daily basis although because it is not classified as criminal in nature, it is not addressed through criminal enforcement. A significant proportion of the homeless face mental health conditions and/or debilitating substance addictions. This population is often challenging to help since the nature of their disorders hinders their voluntary participation in treatment. 
  • Mental Health and Homeless Advocacy Collaboration In order to prevent conflict with patrons, businesses, and others facing mental health conditions, the department set out to work with these service providers to ensure their accountability in the process. Since these require different interventions, police department personnel have strived to address these problems with more holistic approaches designed to mitigate the underlying causes of criminal conduct through matching service efforts in lieu of arrests whenever possible. The police department established ongoing relationships with numerous mental health entities in order to produce consistency in operational protocols and a better joint effort among all stakeholders. To more successfully place and supportthe homeless, wrap-around services and subsistence resources are applied when officers encounter those in need. The police department works with homeless advocacy services to boost placement rates. Stronger practices and in-field activities designed to pair services with prospective clients on the spot have reduced the homeless population.
  • Business Collaboration Tremendous incentives existed for businesses to become more aware of the circumstances affecting the climate at Sequoia Station. To accomplish this, the department worked closely with businesses to build strong and lasting partnerships to improve the fundamental environment, resulting in supportive business practices and an improved sense of security at Sequoia Station. This effort continues as additional businesses are introduced to concepts relating to employee and patron safety. The police department has undertaken this task by first identifying key stakeholders and obtaining their input on their concerns and those of their patrons. Additionally, the department has sought commitments from businesses, which will ensure their involvement in all solutions and their long-term continuation. To help potentially influence this efforts success, patrol officers meet with and educate business owners and their employees about sound safety practices, reporting procedures, and other practices.
  • Interagency Collaboration While Sequoia Station is within the jurisdiction of the Redwood City Police Department, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Transit Police has concurrent jurisdiction over the transit hub. The police department and sheriff's office commit to focused patrols and participate in weekly planning meetings.
The police department and District Attorney’s (DA) Office dedicated staff members to focus on emerging cases from the Sequoia Station enforcement activities. The DA's Office continues to evaluate enforcement plans to ensure they are meeting legal and constitutional requirements. Other city departments have helped re-design the shopping ceRedwood-City-Project-SAFE-Strategic-Plan.pngnter’s environment by removing tables and planter boxes, and making lighting improvements, which have proven to be successful in diminishing loitering.
Building collaborative relationships with mental health agencies, homeless advocacy services, business owners and other stakeholders has had a positive impact on the area’s patrons. Many homeless individuals and others in need of treatment for alcohol and substance abuse have been paired with the appropriate support services. Expectations and agreements that were established between local mental health agencies and the police department have resulted in greater accountability associated with practices affecting mental health clients at Sequoia Station.
One of the objectives of collaborating with the local businesses in the area is to increase the accountability of private security resources. To accomplish this, police personnel provide free training to private security personnel working at Sequoia Station. Since Project SAFE started, some businesses have reported a 30-35 percent increase in sales, as well as a noticeable reduction in the theft of merchandise.
Redwood-City-Business-Engagement.pngThe efforts launched under the Project SAFE program have produced other favorable outcomes. A number of students from Sequoia High School, located just across the street, visit the center during school hours and an even larger number of youth loiter unsupervised at the conclusion of the school day. The police department’s school resource officer began working more closely with the Sequoia High School administration to develop greater interoperability with regard to reducing truancy. Based on feedback provided by school administrators and nearby residents, youth-based criminal activity and engagement in the Project SAFE environment has been reduced and class attendance has increased at Sequoia High School, presenting a fiscal incentive to the school.
Redwood-City-Sequoia-Station.jpgBuilding stronger relationships between criminal justice groups and social services has been a positive result of Project SAFE, producing greater performance within the criminal justice arena. Participating partners have been instrumental in helping to provide information to complete cases coming from enforcement activities at Sequoia Station. The early involvement in criminal prosecutions by DA's staff has ensured effective prosecutions while ensuring the rights and fair treatment of those contacted by police.
The department has also received numerous acknowledgements from Redwood City residents and commuters who frequent Sequoia Station signifying a noticeable improvement in the sense of safety and security at this location. Among the most important outcomes is the development of an effective multi-faceted approach to crime and blight, which will continue to act as a proven model for future challenges.

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