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Experts baffled by video showing S.F. police apparently watching as burglary unfolds

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 11/25/2021 By Rachel Swan
A screen grab taken from surveillance video shows what appears to be a burglary of a cannabis dispensary north of the Panhandle in San Francisco. Police arrive as the scene is unfolding — one police car shines its spotlight on the apparent getaway vehicle — but do not engage the suspects and allow the car to drive off. © Provided To The Chronicle/The Chronicle

A screen grab taken from surveillance video shows what appears to be a burglary of a cannabis dispensary north of the Panhandle in San Francisco. Police arrive as the scene is unfolding — one police car shines its spotlight on the apparent getaway vehicle — but do not engage the suspects and allow the car to drive off.

A surveillance video that appears to show San Francisco police standing by and watching as a burglary unfolds left experts baffled on Wednesday, while city leaders called for an explanation.

“We need some answers on what happened here,” said Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents the neighborhood north of the Panhandle where the crime took place.

In the footage, three patrol cars arrive at the Bay Area Safe Alternative dispensary on Grove Street in the lower Haight shortly after 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 16. Police said a neighbor had called 911 after hearing alarms buzz at the building, saying she’d observed two or three people inside the building removing bags of merchandise and loading them into a gray car parked out front.

One patrol car shined a spotlight on the possible getaway vehicle, where two suspects waited while a third lingered inside for almost 40 seconds. Police stood by as the final suspect left the building, jumped into the driver’s seat of the sedan, executed a three-point turn and fled.

The video surfaced at a moment when San Francisco is fractured over policing and public safety, faced with a recent string of flash mob-style retail thefts, and the looming recall election of District Attorney Chesa Boudin in June.

Police who responded to the burglary “certainly had sufficient numbers and sufficient resources to intercept the burglars, and they’re not doing it,” former Boston police Lt. Tom Nolan said Wednesday. He found the officers’ conduct perplexing and offered a technical term to describe it — “nonfeasance, or failing to take action when you’re legally required to do so.”

Nolan also wondered if a supervisor was directing the response, since the specter of “all of them conspiring ... to just pull back seems less likely than them taking direction from some supervisor.”

The owner of the business, Tariq Mizyed Alazraie, reacted angrily to the lack of action by the police. He said the shop has been broken into more than five times, and police “have always responded, but they never acted.”

“This one it really made me angry,” he said. “It was only one car, it was three people, they had no weapons. But for the observer if you watched what took place, you would think the police were in on it. It was just weird, it would make you angry when you watch it.”

On the day of the burglary, after viewing the footage, Alazraie’s daughter, Anisa, attended a summit at which small-business leaders were meeting with the police chief, deputy chief, and captains.

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When she walked in, Alazraie said she approached the events coordinator, told that person about the footage and asked if she could put it up on the screen for everyone to watch.

The coordinator declined, but suggested Alazraie approach some of the higher-ranking police brass in the room. So Alazraie pulled aside Deputy Chief David Lazar, Commander Daryl Fong, Captain Christopher Pedrini and Sgt. Raymond Padmore, and showed them the video.

“They were shocked,” and insisted it was an “isolated incident,” Alazraie recalled, adding that she argued this sort of police negligence is pervasive in San Francisco.

That evening, Pedrini called to tell her the department would conduct an internal investigation, she said.

The following day, Alazraie attended a virtual meeting with the executive board of the Council of District Merchants Associations and Mayor London Breed's chief of staff, Sean Elsbernd. She played the video during the meeting.

She said she turned to Elsbernd and said, “Listen, this is a really huge problem, and I'm showing this to you first, because I want to make a difference in a meaningful, legislative way.”

Elsbernd declined comment.

On Tuesday, San Francisco Police Department officials said they reached out to Tariq Mizyed Alazraie and helped him file a complaint with the Department of Police Accountability, an independent oversight agency that reviews complaints about officer conduct, and shootings involving officers, while also evaluating and recommending policies to the city’s Police Commission. The DPA opened an investigation into the incident, spokesperson Matt Dorsey told the Chronicle.

The DPA’s second quarterly report to the commission, which presented statistics on investigations from April through June of this year, showed that the department received 404 complaints and that 40% of them pertained to “neglect of duty,” ranging from failure to activate body-worn cameras, to failure to follow San Francisco police policies or state law. The report said that neglect of duty accounted for 65% of the DPA’s improper conduct findings.

Malia Cohen, president of the San Francisco Police Commission, said the case “should concern all of us.” She said she had to reserve judgment, noting the active investigation and the possibility that it could wind up before the commission as a personnel matter.

“I am confident the incident is being thoroughly investigated, and we should have a preliminary determination about the officers’ conduct soon,” Cohen said.

Mayor London Breed said through a spokesperson that she would wait to comment until the Department of Police Accountability had a chance to present its findings. A spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Officers Association also hesitated to draw conclusions, acknowledging that “what is depicted on the video snippet of a portion of the incident raises questions as to the individual officers’ reaction and their training.”

“We will await the conclusion of the investigation the department is conducting rather than speculate as to what occurred,” the association said in a statement.

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @rachelswan


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