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A man in crisis climbed SF traffic light. It took 5 hours to help him

A man on the corner of Ellis and Leavenworth streets looks up to see a man sitting on top of a traffic light. | David Sjostedt/ The Standard

A man appearing to suffer from a mental crisis in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood climbed to the top of a traffic light Friday morning, leading to a response from multiple city departments that stretched more than five hours.

Police on scene at the corner of Ellis and Leavenworth streets told The Standard that the man is known in the area and had previously climbed up a light pole. The last incident took about three hours, officers said.

A San Francisco police officer looks on Friday as a man in distress sits atop a traffic light in the Tenderloin. | David Sjostedt/The Standard

San Francisco’s issues around mental health crises have been well-documented in recent years, as calls for service have increasingly tied up the city’s public safety resources. The city has Street Crisis Response Teams to help people in mental distress, but this task often falls to police.

San Francisco‘s Police Department currently has a little more than 1,500 officers, but city officials say adequate staffing would be closer to 2,100.

Mayor London Breed has called for $27 million in overtime funding to keep officers on patrol, which has met pushback and support from members of the Board of Supervisors.

A woman who works across the street from the incident Friday said that a street crisis team almost got the man down from the traffic pole at one point. However, police arrived as the man was coming down and he got scared, she said.

Video posted to Twitter shows the man kicked off the hood coverings of the traffic lights earlier in the morning.

As police and nearly two dozen people on the street watched as the man shouted, nearby, officials for the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office were seen entering the Senator Hotel, a single-room occupancy building. The office deals with collecting the city’s dead bodies.

Shortly after 2 p.m., a person on the corner yelled at the man in distress and offered him $20 if he would come down from the traffic light. He told the man that kids were about to walk by while heading home from school.

A man who climbed a traffic light in the Tenderloin was arrested Friday after a five-hour standoff. | David Sjostedt/The Standard

Isaac Perkins, a neighborhood resident, arrived a short time later, and it took him no more than five minutes to coax the man down. He said he simply told the man that he loved him and there are people who care about him.

The police presence, Perkins said, is what made the situation extend so long.

“That’s intimidation,” he said. “I wouldn’t come down either.”

Police took the man into custody, put him into an ambulance and life in the Tenderloin continued.

Josh Koehn can be reached at
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