During a Monday morning news conference, Mayor London Breed and Police Chief Bill Scott bucked the viral video-fueled argument that San Francisco crime is widespread and on the rise. The city, countered the mayor and police chief, is safe, and most crime is either down or comparable to past years.
Larceny and theft, car break-ins, aggravated assaults, and robberies have all shown decreases over the past few years. Sexual assault cases have dropped sharply: At this point in 2019, there were more than double the current number for 2021. However, as the city reopens, Scott indicated that this number could increase. And as is to be expected, 2020 stood out with lower-than-usual crime rates in most of the data presented, which Scott referred to as an aberration caused by Covid-19 closures.
“It’s personal for me when people look at our city and think that what they see on the video is what this city represents,” Scott said, adding that people should feel comfortable visiting San Francisco. “I don’t wanna be dismissive of the videos … However, we wanna keep perspective on the reality of what’s really happening.”
Breed praised the SFPD’s “incredible” work and emphasized that “what’s not going viral … is the fact that, in almost every single instance, our police department have arrested many of the people in these particular crimes” — that is, the viral videos used to bolster the argument that San Francisco is awash in crime and lawlessness.
The mayor referred to successful arrests in recent high profile cases — the shooting death of 6-year-old Jace Young, the incident of a man bicycling into Walgreens, and the owner of Franklin Street Market who was stabbed in the eye — and commended the police for investigating these incidents and making arrests.
“When you come to San Francisco and commit a crime, you will be arrested by this police department,” Breed said. A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office added that, in each of the cases mentioned by the mayor, a prosecution is pending and the offender is being held in jail.
Breed and Scott leaned on the SFPD’s own crime statistics to counter the narrative that crime is rising and out of control in San Francisco. But those same crime statistics do not back up Breed’s notion that those committing crimes will likely be arrested, let alone inevitably arrested.
According to the SFPD Clearance Rates Dashboard, the large majority of crimes committed in San Francisco remain unresolved, as they always have. Typically, a case is “cleared” when an offender is arrested, charged, and sent to court, or when there is an “exceptional” circumstance that prevents the arrest of a known offender.
Clearance rates for burglaries in calendar year 2021 register as 9.4 percent, and motor vehicle theft clearance rates are only 7.2 percent. What’s more, the data indicates that clearance rates are decreasing compared to prior years in most categories.
Further, certain types of crime have indeed worsened in the city, a fact Scott acknowledged needs to be addressed. There have been 119 instances of reported gun violence this year compared to 58 at this point in 2019, and there were consecutive decreases in the four years prior. There have been 26 homicides this year, the highest number since 2017.
The clearance rate for homicides is 92 percent as of July 5, much higher than other categories, a spokesperson for the SFPD confirmed.
According to Scott, the answer is more officers on the streets. “Robberies are one of the categories where cops in the street matter.” In 2017, one of the worst years for car break-ins, Scott said that a shift away from apprehending offenders and simply increasing police presence resulted in a dramatic turnaround. Currently, officers are being deployed in higher numbers in high-crime areas like the Tenderloin, mid-Market, and Bayview’s Third Street corridor.
In the mayor’s proposed budget from last month, the SFPD would receive $423.6 million for salaries in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, an increase of nearly $1.5 million from the prior year, and then $447.3 million for the 2022-2023 fiscal year — an increase of nearly $24 million.
Currently, Scott said the SFPD is operating with a shortage of about 400 officers, an issue he said goes as far back as the 2008 recession and was exacerbated by the past year, during which recruiting was difficult and prospective officers thought twice about joining the police force.
The joint presentation also emphasized a need for accountability to ensure repeat offenders aren’t released and allowed the opportunity to commit crimes again. But both the mayor and police chief declined to place blame on the district attorney or the courts. The mayor’s proposed budget added 11 more positions to the DA’s office.
Breed said a comprehensive approach is needed to provide social services and rehabilitation, not only jail time to people involved in crime.
“It’s not just lock ’em up, throw away the key,” Breed said. “We realize the significance of the work that needs to be done, and I’m hoping to see some results, as a result of the work that we’ve been doing.”
Update: This story was updated to include a comment from the District Attorney’s office and the SFPD.