Police Chief Bill Scott
Police Chief Bill Scott speaking to the Police Commission on June 2, 2021

The San Francisco Police Department’s crime clearance rates have dropped to its lowest level in a decade, spurring much lamentation at Wednesday night’s Police Commission meeting.

A February letter of inquiry from District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen to Police Chief Bill Scott was extensively discussed at the meeting. That letter expressed concerns that a “political rift” between the SFPD and the DA’s office was “causing a deliberate work stoppage” by the police.

Explanations from the chief of police and his colleague defending the department didn’t appear to satisfy the three Board of Supervisors-appointed commissioners — the only ones who spoke during Wednesday evening’s agenda item. The three mayoral appointees on the commission sat silent.

Only 8.1 percent of reported crimes in 2021 led to an arrest. That is “the lowest it’s been in the past 10 years,” said acting president Cindy Elias, reading off the SFPD’s low clearance rates for various crimes as compared to national averages. The current rate, she said, is unacceptable.

Ronen’s letter noted reports in the media, as well as instances when she and her staff had personally witnessed members of the SFPD tell constituents that there is no point in investigating crimes or arresting perpetrators “because the District Attorney will not prosecute,” a claim she called “patently false.”

Data shows that DA Chesa Boudin’s charging rates are actually higher than those of previous DAs.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for police officers to just stop doing their jobs because they don’t like the way another department is doing its job,” Ronen wrote. “It is time to stop using the district attorney as a scapegoat for broken morale in your department and start taking responsibility to solve the difficult problems in our City under your jurisdiction.”

Neither the commissioners nor Scott explicitly brought the district attorney into Wednesday’s conversation, but Scott said he didn’t believe officers refusing to do their jobs was a big enough issue to have an impact on the department’s clearance rates.

“I don’t think there is this sweeping neglect of duty issue that’s going to swing an arrest rate from 8 percent to 50 percent,” Scott said. “I don’t think it’s pervasive to that degree.”

Instead, he blamed alternatives to incarceration, efforts to reduce jail populations, legal shifts to decriminalize certain activities, and staffing shortages. Since most of the initiatives Scott mentioned require an arrest and evidence to get to the next step, alternatives and jail, commissioners were unconvinced.

Commissioner Jesús Gabriel Yáñez called the low rates “a glaring, glaring gap,” and said that Scott wasn’t presenting any true solutions or ideas to address the problem.

Elias pointed out that considering all the reports of officers neglecting their duties, very few of those came before the commission for disciplinary hearings. “So, how are we changing the culture if there’s no discipline for these kinds of complaints?” she asked.

And, like Ronen, Elias rejected the understaffing excuse. Since 2016, prior to the department’s staffing shortages, Elias noted that the SFPD’s clearance rate has been “well below the national average.”

San Francisco sees “a lot of offenders that are sophisticated that come … in crews. They’re very organized and they constantly change their M.O.“

Raj Vaswani

“While staffing is important and we understand it, there still is another problem or underlying reason as to why this is happening,” Elias said. “And I guess my question is, what is the department doing to find out what that is?”

One issue is the high level of property crime here in San Francisco, said the acting deputy chief of investigations, Raj Vaswani. Another reason, he proffered, is organized and smart repeat offenders.

Scott, however, acknowledged that the police have no intention of solving many property crimes, which the force sees as mostly unsolvable. “Property crime incidents with little to no suspect information or physical evidence (i.e., vehicle break-ins) continue to be considered a lower priority in order to have available staff to respond to calls for service,” Scott wrote in his response letter to Ronen.

Scott told the commission yesterday that for the “vast majority” of car break-ins, for example, “there is absolutely no follow-up done — or anything to follow up on.”

Clearance rates and spending of the SFPD compared to other cities, from a recent Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice study from March 2022.

Even commissioner John Hamasaki, a notoriously harsh critic of the police department, agreed with this reality on Wednesday, his final commission meeting.

“I’ve defended the department many times on these property crime things because, it’s like, you can’t investigate a pile of broken glass outside … there’s only so much you can do.” But Hamasaki also questioned the quality of investigations in San Francisco, which he said simply doesn’t always stack up against other jurisdictions.

Commissioners agreed that better tracking and auditing of calls for service and ensuing police investigations — or lack thereof — would be a place to start.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that there are three mayoral appointees currently on the police commission.

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. S.F. native sfpd couldn’t even find reported stolen cars, watched them drive by my car as I found it! Useless b4 68 Scott is one of many undesirable sfpd. They should not be able to disrupt and kill the people of our city, when they are bereft of any moral fiber. Should be penalized for having no other skills than to kill. Should not embarrass s.f. as their employer!

  2. They didn’t follow up on a smash and grab on my car where I had an eye witness, make, color and license plate of the car. They had everything they needed and did nothing. Including acting like they were taking down the serial number for the stolen laptop and later when I asked what it was they didn’t have it in their system. Literally the cop behind the counter lied that he was putting it into the system.

    1. Specifics like the comment from Nann White above are pretty damning. I take into account that this is not generally a pro-cop thread, but when I see reports like this one I have to wonder.

  3. The cops are too busy stealing machine guns and shredding evidence.

  4. It seems progressives will never learn the unintended consequences of their idealistic policies.

    After progressive calls to fight the “biggest gang” (PD), stop “criminalizing the poor” (i.e., don’t arrest / investigate certain crimes), “defund the police”, limit the number of officers, limit cameras that would help solve crimes, discontinue enforcement of “quality of life” crimes, and endless rhetoric bashing the police department to a demoralized mush, they have the nerve to complain about this?

    This is nothing more than the inevitable predetermined outcome of their own “progressive” actions that time and time and time again they fail to foresee.

    Only when these clowns are voted out of office will things begin to change, and it looks like voters are finally starting to wake up to this fact.

  5. Any big city Mayor who got a report like this would open the door and “hit it”.
    Yes crime is up nation wide.

  6. Interesting how no one is talking about the crimes that are investigated, the perpetrator is identified, and the DA’s office declines/refuses to approve the arrest warrant completed by the investigators. No one seems to even consider this as a factor in the clearance rate.

    1. The SFPOA has been working this schtick since the 90s when I started paying attention.

      Were the SFPOA not lying, they’d have long since held a fancy press conference where they’d take a stack of referrals that successive DAs have not prosecuted and plunk them down on a table with a big thud and allow independent auditors to ascertain their viability.

      That would be too much work for the lazy overpaid commuter cop cartel.

    2. The trickle down bias in the DA’s office will of course pollute the efforts of even the finest police force.

      When Boudin is creamed this summer, then the SFPD will not have such an easy way to avoid accountability. And then and only then will I not give them a pass. It was insanity letting an extremist public defender with a chequered family history have that job.

  7. Let’s see: the SFPD has the highest crime rate in the state, the second highest staff numbers (per 1,000 residents), the highest cost per resident and the lowest percent cleared by arrest. And they got over 50% of the pandemic funds given to the City. Ironic to hear the POA bots whine about how the cops who beat/shoot innocent civilians are “just doing their job.” Get rid of Scott. He’s only been window dressing, and bad window dressing at that. If we’re going to have a POA stooge as Chief, he should be out front about it. Most likely there is some kind of petty kickback deal between Scott and the Cartel. Ask Mohammed Nuru.

  8. Also, the crime rate is unnaturally low due to police discouraging people from reporting crimes. I both witnessed this and experienced it. So, they are solving only 8% of the crimes they actually allow people to report. I would guess that means they’re maybe solving 2% of the crimes that occur in SF.

  9. Look, if the city can spend the money to put up physical signs at the parking near twin peaks to tell people their stuff will be stolen from cars, the city can afford to park two cops at the only outlets to this road and harvest car burglars with ease. The fact that they have signs but not arrests in a situation that any idiot could resolve is proof of the police’s incompetence and unwillingness to do their job.

  10. Who are the gonna blame when Boudin is gone? The next district attorney, that who they’re gonna blame.

  11. “The police department is unsure what to do.”

    No they’re not. Lazy SFPOA blames the District Attorney for their sloth as they’ve done for decades.