San Francisco has hired an ex–NFL linebacker to keep its assortment of street ambassadors in order—or in football terms—as a defensive coordinator for the city’s streets.
The city has invested heavily in street ambassador programs as an alternative to police, relying on a private army of civilians to help tourists and families in some of the city’s rougher neighborhoods.
The programs have faced their fair share of controversies, despite City Hall designating them as an essential part of San Francisco’s approach to public safety.
That’s where Andre Torrey comes in. Torrey, a former San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots linebacker, was anointed as the city’s new street ambassador coordinator in April. Torrey was not available for an interview through the Department of Emergency Management when The Standard reached out.
His new role consists of finding best practices for the ambassadors and ensuring that the array of different nonprofits are performing to a certain standard.
Torrey played one game with the San Francisco 49ers and two games with the New England Patriots from 2005 to 2006, notching four tackles over the course of his two-season pro career, according to the Football Database website.
Following his stint in the National Football League, Torrey worked as a program director at the Boys & Girls Club in Tuscon before eventually finding a role in San Francisco’s city government in 2017, implementing programs to promote safety and inclusivity in underserved communities, according to his LinkedIn account.
San Francisco’s most prominent street ambassador program, Urban Alchemy, has come under scrutiny after two of its workers suffered gunshot wounds while on the job and another allegedly shot someone while he was working at a homeless shelter in Lower Nob Hill. The program has also been accused of enlisting its workers to perform the work of security guards without proper licensing.
However, many residents in the Tenderloin neighborhood have praised Urban Alchemy for keeping certain blocks safe during the daytime, noting a striking difference when they clock out at 7 p.m.
Other ambassador programs in the city have been rather uncontroversial. A group of about 50 Welcome Ambassadors in orange vests have been tasked with meeting people at the "front door" of San Francisco’s tourist–dense districts. Another group called Safe Passage, employed by the Tenderloin Community Benefit District, helps families and children walk home safely from school through the Tenderloin neighborhood.
Torrey has never won a game in San Francisco. Maybe this time, he can.
David Sjostedt can be reached at [email protected]