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After attack on candy store owner, San Francisco shopkeepers fed up with rising crime

Shaws owner Diana Zogaric sits at a table inside her candy shop on Tuesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

After a recent violent attack at San Francisco’s Shaws candy store, owner Diana Zogaric feels at a loss for what she can do to keep her staff—mostly teenagers—safe.

“It shouldn’t be dangerous to work at a candy store,” she said from her shop on a recent afternoon, just days after the Sept. 27 attack. “These are teenagers, so it shouldn’t be dangerous to work here. And I don’t know how to fix it.”

Parmjit Singh Janda, 39, of San Francisco, was sitting on a bench outside Shaws when Zogaric asked him to leave because students were leaving school. According to Zogaric, Janda turned violent after she told him that she was the owner of the candy store.

READ MORE: San Francisco Man Charged in West Portal Candy Store Attack

Janda was arrested after bystanders kept him at the scene. He was charged with three counts of felony assault and one count of felony elder abuse for allegedly attacking Zogaric, Shaws manager Nina Veaco and two other people. He is expected again in court on Oct. 12.

A LinkedIn profile that bears Janda’s name lists him as unemployed since 2015. The profile describes him as a prophet.

Zogaric, who had visible bruising on her arms from the attack, said she has security cameras at Shaws. But she says she doesn’t know what else can be done to prevent a violent incident from happening again—especially if one of the teen workers is on shift without her or Veaco.

Shaws owner Diana Zogaric suffered bruises in the Sept. 27 attack. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

On Sept. 17, just 10 days before her assault, Zogaric said a teenage employee was opening up the store and the front door was unlocked when a man walked in and locked himself in the backroom.

“My employee is a young girl who has subsequently quit because her parents don’t want her working here anymore since it’s not safe,” Zogaric said. “She kept trying to tell him that we weren’t open, and he kept coming. So she ran out the front door, and he went and locked the door that goes between the main area and the back room.”

It took San Francisco police 30 minutes to respond to the incident to get the man out of the back room, she said. The man, identified by police as 46-year-old Gregory Fields, was cited and released after officers persuaded him to come out of the room.

Police disputed Zogaric’s claims and said officers responded within 10 minutes of being dispatched.

“So it was like a little bit of ‘no harm done,’ but not really, because that poor girl’s traumatized,” she said, adding that Shaws had to be closed for four hours while she spoke with police.

‘There’s Been More Incidents

Zogaric said she believes crime in the vicinity has gone up in 2023.

“It’s just the increase and frequency to which I have to ask people to leave the store,” she said. “I have to ask people to leave my bench. I have to worry that the teenagers who work here are going to be unsafe. I can’t put a date on it, but I feel like this year there’s been more incidents.”

West Portal’s crime report data falls within the area called West of Twin Peaks, which has seen an increase in both property and violent crime since 2019, according to police incident report data analyzed by The Standard and broken down by neighborhood.

Shaws candy shop is in the West Portal neighborhood. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

There were 1,259 reported incidents of property crime in West of Twin Peaks in the 12 months leading up to Sept. 30 compared with 1,108 during the same period ending in September 2022, according to police data analyzed by The Standard. There were 1,056 reported incidents during the same period in 2019.

Citywide, so far in 2023, the rate of reported property crimes is down compared to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, there were 588 incidents per 10,000 residents; this year, there have been 571 incidents per 10,000 residents.

In terms of violent crime in West of Twin Peaks, there were 71 reported incidents in the 12 months before Sept. 30 compared with 42 incidents during that same period ending in September 2022. In the same period in 2019, there were 64 reported incidents of violent crime.

Effects of Downtown Crime Crackdown?

Business owners along West Portal Avenue who spoke with The Standard say benches and parklets have been popular spots for people living on the street to sit.

“Usually what we have in this neighborhood is that there’s an element of folks who just kinda hang out here,” Mexican restaurant El Toreador’s owner Sheldon Mahan said of the homeless population.

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who represents the area, attributed the increase in homelessness and crime to the area’s flat, above-ground Muni station at the base of the Twin Peaks Tunnel and the city’s attempts to clean up Downtown.

San Francisco transit officials have shut down two westside Muni stations Friday evening due to a power outage affecting thousands of customers.
Shaws owner Diana Zogaric and store manager Nina Veaco were assaulted at the candy store in the West Portal neighborhood. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

West Portal, she said, doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure or police staffing at the Taraval Station to support an influx of people relocating from the city’s core.

“The Taraval Station is at 77% of staffing,” Melgar said.“We have no social services. We have no homeless workers. We don’t have HEART [Homeless Engagement Assistance Response Team] or crisis response teams. We have nothing. I think that also is what attracts people. They don’t get harassed or hassled.”

Mahan, Zogaric and others said they had seen Janda in the neighborhood about a month before the Shaws incident and he seemed to keep to himself.

“I guess the first interaction went awry because nobody really talked to him,” Mahan said.

‘We’re Not Going To Be Here 70 Hours a Week

In the last year, some businesses—including El Toreador and nearby Calibur burger restaurant—have had transaction tablets stolen.

“Luckily, in our case, we were able to retrieve it,” Mahan said. “One of our customers actually chased the guy down and got it back.”

El Toreador owner Sheldon Mahan said his point-of-sale device was recently stolen from a window at his restaurant. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Sean Patrick, co-owner of Calibur, wasn’t so lucky. Around six months ago, someone walked into the store, took the tablet and walked off.

In the nine years Calibur has been on West Portal Avenue, Patrick has seen an increase in mental health crises that have threatened the safety of teenage workers who typically hold the minimum-wage jobs at small businesses like his or Zogaric’s. The situation can be exacerbated by business owners trying to keep people from loitering in parklets and on benches outside their stores.

“We are in a situation where it is really tricky,” Patrick said. “We have a lot of 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds.”

Selling candy, Zogaric said, isn’t the kind of business that has a large profit margin.

“I can’t afford to have two people here all the time,” she said. “You think, ‘Oh, I have a boy (employee)!’ Well, that didn’t help. If that was my son, he would have gotten knocked over as well, and he’s 18. So I don’t really know, in that particular instance, what else could have helped.”

Patrick and Zogaric said owners can’t be at their stores continually.

Shaws store manager Nina Veaco works behind the counter. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

“We can’t be here all the time,” Patrick said. “Our goal is not to be here all the time. You know, we’re open 10 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re not going to be here 70 hours a week.”

How Effective Are the Ambassadors?

Although ambassadors with the San Francisco Police Department’s Community Ambassador Program patrol West Portal, both owners said they were unsure of how effective the program’s retired SFPD officers are in combating crime since they are unarmed and don’t have arresting powers.

“I appreciate the effort, but I just don’t know that I understand what they’re supposed to be doing,” Zogaric said. “Their presence is here, and that’s supposed to be a deterrent, but it’s not like I have their phone number and I can call them. They’re lovely, and I really don’t want to say anything negative about them, but I just don’t think that they have any authority.”

San Francisco police said the program—which began sending ambassadors to West Portal in November 2022—is meant to elevate the efficacy of sworn police in the areas ambassadors frequent.

“The San Francisco Police Department’s Ambassador Program is just one of our programs that accomplishes those goals,” SFPD spokesperson Officer Robert Rueca said. “Our SFPD Ambassadors were not meant to replace sworn police officers.”

West Portal business owners say the ambassadors respond to incidents like the assault at Shaws, but most of the help is after something happens.

“It’s nice to see them,” Patrick said. “They help when situations happen if they’re in the neighborhood, but I don’t think they actually deter it (crime). They help get the police here quicker or describe it or have direct access to the people that matter, but that’s always after the fact.”

Customers dine at Calibur in San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Deidre Von Rock, president of the West Portal Merchant Association, said the ambassadors have limits on what they can do, and they don’t work during the night.

“These are retired officers, many of whom are in their 60s and 70s,” Von Rock said “They don’t have any enforcement authority. They do not have any weapons, and honestly, I don’t think any of them have the physical strength to deal with an assault. If something is happening and the ambassadors are right there, maybe they can get to SFPD quicker than we can, but that’s about it.”

Melgar acknowledged that there aren’t enough ambassadors but pushed back on the idea that the ambassadors are ineffective without being armed. She also said the funding for the ambassador work hours is lacking and their effectiveness is tied to their ability to be present when a crime is being committed.

“These are trained officers who understand the laws and protocols of the police department,” she said. “I sort of resent a little bit characterizing them as useless because they are dedicated men and women who serve our police force.”

According to Melgar, on the day of the Shaws assault, ambassadors had been redirected from West Portal to another area, although she has yet to hear where they were sent.

On the Defensive

Melgar said she has been in communication with SFPD Chief Bill Scott and plans to meet with Mayor London Breed to discuss increasing homeless services in the West Portal corridor.

“We also have folks who are unhoused in the west side, not as big a concentration, but we have them, and we cannot sacrifice the neighborhoods for the sake of Downtown,” Melgar said. “We need to be able to spread it out and make sure we address these issues everywhere in San Francisco.”

Business owners in the corridor have bounced ideas around since the attack, Zogaric said, ranging from hiring private security for the corridor to self-defense classes for business owners.

“Someone on the street offered self-defense lessons for anybody who wants some,” she said. “Again, I don’t know if it would have helped because that guy hit me so fast and so hard.”

Shaws owner Diana Zogaric speaks about the assault from a counter inside her store. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Von Rock said that merchants are taking additional security measures for their businesses with cameras and lighting but that the midday attack at Shaws shows that mom-and-pop owners are exasperated when it comes to crime in West Portal.

“The thing with Shaws is that it was in the middle of the day,” she said. “I mean, there’s no amount of security for something like that. Some of the merchants are talking about putting on self-defense lessons. Well, that’s great, but Jesus Christ, we’re so on the defensive.”