According to San Francisco Police Department data, between 2016 and 2018 the number of violent and property crimes in the City increased, the former jumping by 11.8 percent last year. In 2017, the number of homicides declined by 3.4 percent. Human trafficking – transporting and harboring people for forced sexual or labor services – was down 32.6 percent.
For the fiscal year ending this month, a violent crime rate of 768 per 100,000 residents is expected, with 6,001 of 100,000 residents estimated to be subjected to property offenses.
Crimes involving firearms dropped significantly. In 2017, the number of murders involving guns decreased by five percent. Non-fatal shooting incidents diminished by 15.8 percent. These reductions may be partly attributed to SFPD’s seizure of 1,023 firearms during the year, and collection of 275 guns through buyback events. SFPD also doubled the number of citywide uniformed foot patrols in 2017.
The number of reported vehicle break-ins has steadily risen since 2010. According to California Department of Justice statistics, in 2010 there were 9,482 such incidents, rising to 12,221 in 2011. By 2016, the total had more than doubled, to 23,039, with 29,851 such offenses in 2017. SFPD statistics indicate that officers booked or cited just 790 people for vehicle thefts last year; Mission Station recorded the highest increase in vehicle break-ins, from 601 to 1,693. The only station to report a decrease in 2017 was Bayview.
Last February, eight individuals accused of participating in an international crime ring targeting automobile theft around the Bay Area were arrested in San Francisco and San Jose following a joint investigation by the Fremont police and Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. The work may have been aided by SFPD’s 2016 creation of a General Crimes Unit to investigate serial residential and commercial burglaries, auto break-ins, bicycle thefts, and other property crimes.
With the number of vehicle break-ins continuing to be high in Southside neighborhoods, some automobile owners are posting notes on their cars explaining that there are no valuables inside, removing all visible spare change and personal belongings.
An April 2018 report from Southern Station detailed how a group of three individuals stealing from cars located at 10th and Bryant street divided their work. One person rode by parked vehicles on a bicycle, scouting out potential targets, the second broke windows with a spark plug and removed items, the third kept watch.
“SFPD has problems with reporting the number of crimes and arrest statistics,” said Mike Males, senior research fellow at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a San Francisco nonprofit with a mission of reducing incarceration. “They do not classify Hispanics separately, as most American cities do, including those in the East Bay. They also report 80 percent of all juvenile arrests in 2017 as being for no specific offense. In the last 10 years, what we have observed from SFPD’s data is that there’s been a huge decline in robberies and homicides, a slight increase in aggravated assault, and a huge increase in certain property crimes.”
Males said that SFPD should conform to the standards followed by every other law enforcement jurisdiction in the state in reporting the ethnicity of accused individuals and specificity of the associated crimes. Currently, SFPD doesn’t report the offenses for which Hispanics, as a distinct group, have been blamed. Nor did the Department explain exactly what wrongdoing officers arrested an alleged offender for in 82 percent of juvenile and 34 percent of adult arrests in 2017, compared to seven percent of juvenile and 14 percent of adult offenses statewide. Males added that SFPD has an extraordinarily high number of arrests of Black people. “They have not justified or explained this,” he said.
Reverend Townsend, vice president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said African-American males are a target in American society. “What we’re doing now is failing and failing horribly. Arrests don’t help. We’ve got to accept that what we’re doing isn’t working. We need to be much more oriented toward creative success than punishment,” said Townsend.
Townsend said NAACP’s San Francisco branch has had conversations with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and SFPD regarding arrest rates and convictions of Black people. “Nothing has happened. We have said, “Let’s sit down and think it out,” but that hasn’t happened yet. Yet I am optimistic with this Administration that this will occur,” said Townsend.
SFPD faces challenges patrolling Southside neighborhoods in part for administrative reasons. “Unfortunately, Potrero Hill and Dogpatch are split among three different stations, Bayview, Mission, and Southern,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president. “Not only are we on the fringes of their patrol stations, but each of those stations has its own important core crime concerns. I think it’s hard for us to get the coherent policing that we need.”
Last January, SFPD assigned district station officers to work directly with neighborhoods on crime trends, education, and prevention strategies. “The captains of the three districts are very good at attending community meetings. We’re also lucky in that we have a very well-known beat officer, Officer Patrick McNichol, who rides his bike in the neighborhood. He’s accessible on the street, which makes it so we’re able to get police service,” said Eppler.
Southside’s homeless population is particularly vulnerable. “People who are currently homeless are more at risk for being a victim, especially for violent crimes,” said Kelley Cutler, human rights organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness, a San Francisco nonprofit dedicated to the rights of people without shelter. “They don’t have anywhere to be out of the public eye. Also, when it comes to auto break-ins, it’s expensive to replace a window broken out. There is a large percentage of folks that live in a vehicle who are actually working. People who live in tents are keeping an eye out for their stuff. As the City has very strategically been breaking up communities, we’ve seen a huge increase in people “sleeping hard” on the street by themselves.”
Cutler said homeless residents aren’t responsible for the spikes in property theft. “The auto burglaries, just as the large number of bikes found in industrial warehouses, have been connected to large organized crime rings rather than poor and homeless people. Homeless people are not the cause of the rise in these crimes. Yet the City neglects this information when making public policy.”