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A Safety Net for Kids in the Tenderloin

Officer Faye patrols the Tenderloin District on Tuesday, August 31, 2010, morning. Uniformed officers from the Tenderloin station are patrolling the streets in the mornings, in order to provide protection to school children
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Officer Faye patrols the Tenderloin District on Tuesday, August 31, 2010, morning. Uniformed officers from the Tenderloin station are patrolling the streets in the mornings, in order to provide protection to school children
 
San Francisco police protect children on their way to school

Officer Faye patrols the Tenderloin District on Tuesday, August 31, 2010, morning. Uniformed officers from the Tenderloin station are patrolling the streets in the mornings, in order to provide protection to school childrenAt 7:20 a.m. Wednesday, Elizabeth Cazares and her 10-year-old daughter, Lesly, stood in front of a liquor store in the Tenderloin district, waiting for one of Lesly's fifth-grade classmates to join them and walk to school.

Lesly attends De Marillac Academy, a Catholic school that serves mostly low-income students. The walk is seven blocks, riddled with drug addicts and dealers.

With the start of the school year, the San Francisco Police Department has increased efforts to buffer children from the potential harm of the Tenderloin's streets. Now, between 7:30 and 8 a.m., two officers are stationed at the corner of Leavenworth and Turk streets, a spot that the police say is one of the district's most popular for drug dealing.

The effect has been like a momentary truce. As children and parents line up for school buses, or make the walk to school, officers stroll up and down the block, repelling dealers and drug users.

"These three are waiting for us to leave," Officer Gregory Watts said, pointing to a cluster of men who had circled the block seven times. "How absurd. Let the kids wait for the bus in peace, you know?"

Farther up Leavenworth, Lesly's classmate Litzy Cortez and her mother, Olga, arrived to walk to school with Lesly and her mother. Litzy's ponytail was fastened to the side of her head with an elastic band that matched her maroon and plaid uniform. The two girls fell in line behind their mothers and walked another block to Eddy Street.

At the streetlight, a shoeless elderly woman wearing pink pajamas glared over their heads.

"The dirt is bad for the girls," the woman said, tilting back her head and dragging a finger across her neck. "Throat cancer."

The light turned, and the group forged ahead.

The girls described a crime scene they saw near Turk a couple of weeks ago. A man had been shot to death, and as they walked past, their mothers wondered if he was anybody they knew. The girls got close enough to see the body covered by a white sheet.

"There's a lot of cholos on this block," Litzy said. "You know, like gangs."

Lesly pointed across the street to the victim's memorial, a brick wall decorated with votive candles, flowers and empty bottles of Rémy Martin and Hennessy.

The girls arrived at Golden Gate Avenue, where a crossing guard, another recent addition, helped them cross. A few buildings down, they arrived at De Marillac's gated door.

As her mother waited to say goodbye, Litzy fiddled with the clasps on her backpack. She paused to think about why drugs and fighting are bad.

"The earth was made so we could have peace on it," she said, borrowing a lesson from school.

Lesly chimed in: "Yeah, and I think it is disrespecting God's property."

The girls bounded through the gate. At the corner of Turk and Leavenworth, the mothers smiled at the officers. In 10 minutes, the officers would leave, and the truce would end.

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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