The Use of Force
He gives, gets respect
- Susan Sward, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2006
Joe Garrity, who knows almost every nook and cranny of San Francisco's high-crime Tenderloin district, worked the streets there as a police officer for almost two decades without routinely employing his fists or baton.
The Tenderloin is a home to scores of parolees and is the business address for many who make their living by selling drugs or sex, and otherwise breaking the law. But it is also a place where law-abiding people live, including low-income families with children who go to school and play in the area's few playgrounds.
Garrity, now a 47-year-old lieutenant who was transferred out of the Tenderloin in 2004 to work with the San Francisco Police Department's tactical unit, saw his job as serving the regular folks and treating all the people he deals with -- criminals included -- the way he would like to be treated himself.
"To me, he is the ideal of what a police officer should be -- trying to help restore our community," said the Rev. Louis Vitale, who retired recently as pastor of St. Boniface Church on Golden Gate Avenue.
Vitale said Garrity "is just not an enforcer. Joe feels a relationship to the people he is investigating or arresting -- that they be treated fairly and respectfully."
At a St. Anthony Foundation award ceremony for Garrity marking his departure from the Tenderloin, Vitale told how Garrity once chased a mentally ill woman who had smashed a statue in St. Boniface Church. Vitale said Garrity caught the woman and ended up helping convince a judge that the woman should be enrolled in a treatment program and not sent to a jail.
Police typically say that in higher crime areas, officers have to use more force. But from 1996 through 2004, Garrity had only three use-of-force incidents logged on his record.
As a young officer, Garrity said, he developed his approach to dealing with people by watching officers he admired -- officers like robbery Inspector Tom Vigo, Central Station Sgt. Bert Gutierrez and Officer John Brandt, all since deceased, and George Kowalski, who headed the department's homicide unit and later was the Tenderloin Station's captain before he retired.
"I learned from them to treat people as you wanted to be treated and to be a good listener," Garrity said.
These sorts of positive tales don't get told, Garrity said. "People talk about the bad things we do. No one talks about the things we do right."
Over the years, Garrity's approach also involved being a hunter of wanted criminals. Year after year, he filled shoe boxes with small, tattered notebooks jammed with names and phone numbers of criminals, sources and others who could help his search for information.
On the beat, he would stop in front of a gathering of men on a street corner, and the chances were he would know many of them. He might single one out and ask, "You just got out of Quentin a couple of months ago, right?"
Garrity, who once had a tryout as an outside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, said he often avoided using force because he is 6 feet 3 inches and weighs 230 pounds, and his big presence dissuaded criminals from resisting arrest.
If the men he needed to arrest had a slight build, Garrity said, and were trying to resist, he said he sometimes "would wrap them up in a bear hug and say, 'You don't want to get hurt, do you?' "
Often, he worked a 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift and walked the streets alone. Sometimes, he said, he would be struggling to arrest criminals "and crooks and citizens would come to my aid."
Some time ago, he said he worked with the Richmond Police Department to help persuade a man he knew -- who was wanted in a kidnapping -- to turn himself in to the Rev. Cecil Williams at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.
"I told the guy, 'Find a way to give yourself up, or what's going to happen isn't going to be good,' and he turned himself in. Cecil walked him down to the station,'' Garrity said. "I had known him before, and I knew his ex-girlfriend."
For Garrity, leaving the Tenderloin was "as hard as it would be for some people to leave the house they grew up in,'' he said. Now he works with the tactical unit, which is deployed in situations such as crowd control.
Now that Garrity isn't around the Tenderloin, many who were used to having him close by miss him.
"It was very, very comforting to know a person as vigilant, intelligent and caring was on our side,'' said Midge Wilson, executive director of the Bay Area Women's and Children's Center in the Tenderloin.
Wilson said Garrity "worked a big chunk of his life to make this the best possible place for the people who live and work here.''
He's an LT in a large metro department. His uniform almost never get's dirty.
Many more stories like this and they'll have to change the motto from "To beat and abuse" to "To protect and serve".........
Hugging criminals? Um... well, it is San Francisco...