Crime was at the forefront of many San Franciscans’ minds in 2022.

With the successful District Attorney recall in June and supervisorial elections in November, several politicians found success campaigning with tough-on-crime messages. And a conveyor belt of high-profile crimes, including catalytic converter thefts, hit-and-runs, and shootings, never seemed to be far from the headlines.

But what does the data tell us?

According to the San Francisco Police Department, crime across the city rose roughly 5 percent last year compared to 2021. While unambiguously bad news, this rise is smaller than the 12 percent jump in 2021, and crime, overall, is still lower than it was before the pandemic.

And while crime is slightly up from 2021, there is a tremendous variance when parsing individual categories of crimes.

Let’s dive in, starting with violent crimes.

Every category of violent crime either rose or remained steady between 2021 and 2022. Taken as a group, violent crime increased by 6 percent.

Violent crime, however, is still lower than it was before 2020, when most crimes dropped across the country due to the pandemic. And San Francisco has fairly low rates of violent crime in general, sitting in the bottom half of major American cities.

While most violent crimes in San Francisco went down in 2020, homicides rose. In 2019, homicides had dipped to 41, their lowest level since 1961, but they were back to 56 by 2021 and remained exactly the same last year.

This increase in homicides is in line with national trends. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit public policy institute, the murder rate nationally climbed 29 percent in 2020. In large part, this jump is down to socioeconomic disruption from the pandemic.

Another factor that potentially contributed to the 2020 increase: That year saw record gun sales in California. The majority of the state’s additional homicides at the start of the pandemic were shootings.

The most recent police data, however, shows that shooting deaths in San Francisco fell from 44 to 35 from 2021 to 2022. It is unclear why homicides remain high when shooting deaths have fallen.

It is also worth noting that, from a long-term perspective, homicides in San Francisco remain low. A report from last year shows that violent crime peaked in California in the early 1990s, and has been on a general decline ever since.

That said, last year’s increase in assaults was notable.

Assaults rose by 8 percent last year, with some 2,590 on record. This means that, after a pandemic dip, there were more violent attacks in 2022 than even in 2019.

Robberies – which are thefts that involve force or intimidation – have increased slightly after declining year-on-year since 2017, up to 2,371. However, they remain much lower than they were before the pandemic.

This fairly low robbery rate could be down to San Francisco’s higher-than-usual number of remote workers and the pandemic dip in tourists. Fewer people on city streets could mean fewer potential victims.

Instances of rape also remain fairly low after dipping dramatically during the pandemic, with some 238 recorded last year.

Again, this may be partly down to reduced social interactions. But Department of Justice analysis shows that rape is significantly underreported, so these numbers may not be as reliable as we might hope.

One of the main talking points around crime last year was regarding the respective impacts of ousted DA Chesa Boudin and current DA Brooke Jenkins. Boudin’s critics, Jenkins included, argued that his progressive policies and alleged leniency had led to an increase in crime, and that Jenkins would be the person to bring crime down with a tougher approach.

But Magnus Lofstrom, the policy director of criminal justice for the Public Policy Institute of California and a specialist in crime trends, contended that larger socioeconomic factors typically contribute much more to changes in crime than local political decisions.

“District Attorneys are hugely important, and have an impact on lots of factors related to public safety,” he said. “But I don’t think we should expect that a specific action of a District Attorney would considerably change crime rates.”

San Francisco’s slight increase in violent crime over the past year is not unusual in the context of wider state trends, said Lofstrom. However, the city is an outlier with regard to property crimes.

Let’s take a look.

In 2021, the Public Policy Institute of California reported that the San Francisco Bay Area had the highest property crime rate in California.

The institute has not yet conducted its 2022 analysis. But property crime in the city rose 5 percent last year – from its already high level – so it is likely that San Francisco remains up at the top of that list.

There were some 6,283 reported motor vehicle thefts last year, compared to 4,957 in 2017 and 6,097 in 2020.

Lofstrom said that the rise is largely down to soaring used car values. Supply chain issues over the past few years pushed the price of new cars up 40 percent nationally, which makes stealing and reselling cars much more lucrative.

During the pandemic, there was an increase in residential burglaries “that was unique to San Francisco compared to other large cities,” said Lofstrom. Between 2019 and 2020, burglaries rose by over 50 percent.

Lofstrom attributed the unusual increase to San Franciscans deciding to live and work outside the city in the early pandemic, leaving properties unguarded. We are now seeing this trending back downward, although there were still nearly 6,000 burglaries reported last year.

Arson also spiked during the pandemic, and now appears to be trending downward. Last year, some 293 instances were reported.

It is tricky to draw concrete conclusions from arson trends, because the numbers are typically low. This category of crime may also suffer from underreporting, as it can be difficult to differentiate between fires started deliberately and those started accidentally.

Larceny – a category that covers most kinds of theft without force – is by far the most commonly reported crime in San Francisco. After plummeting in 2020, larceny has been slowly climbing back toward its high pre-pandemic levels over the past two years.

There were some 35,464 instances of larceny in 2022. Thefts from vehicles accounted for almost two-thirds of reported cases.

Crime in the Mission and beyond

The Mission had a mixed year when it came to crime trends.

First, the good. The Mission Police District, which encompasses the Mission plus Noe Valley and the Castro, saw a 23 percent dip in burglaries, in line with the citywide trend.

The area also enjoyed a marked reduction in shootings. Shootings decreased 25 percent, and shooting-related homicides were halved. The number of guns seized by police rose from 89 in 2021 to 115 last year.

However, incidents of larceny and auto theft in the Mission Police District rose by 11 percent and 3 percent, respectively, while violent crime rose by 6 percent.

Use the map below to see how the five largest categories of crime changed across all of the city’s police districts.

Map by Will Jarrett. Data from the San Francisco Police Department. Base map from Mapbox.

Methodology

Data is derived from the San Francisco Police Department crime dashboard and monthly reports. Crime numbers were accessed Jan. 17; recent figures may change slightly as more reports are tallied.

These figures are based on crimes that were reported to the police or otherwise came to police attention. It is unknown how many crimes go unreported.

In the police district map, categories of crime with low overall numbers were excluded, as small changes in actual numbers would translate to large changes in percentages and could lead to misleading conclusions.

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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6 Comments

  1. Where are the stats on rape? Why are they not included? Seems an obviously important issue. Please include them in the future or explain why they are not included or if they are being included as part of another group such as assault. If they are included in assault then please distinguish them from the assault numbers. This is an important issue.

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    1. Hi Gretchen, thanks for your comment. Stats on rape are included – you can find these figures in the fourth section of the “violent crime” chart.

      All the best,
      Will

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  2. Hi Will –
    A small technical issue; on mobile (IPhone), for some reason the graphs are rotated 90 degrees vertically, with a top-to-bottom flow such that 2017 is on top and you have to scroll down to see the trend to 2022. Re-reading the article on desktop shows the graphs presented normally from left-to-right.

    I really enjoyed (on desktop) the almost slideshow like presentation with scrolling; haven’t seen that before.

    My takeaway from this article is that prior to COVID the majority of SF didn’t care as crime concentrated in certain neighborhoods (i.e. Mission), and the silver lining of COVID (if there is one) is that the rest of the city has normalized to bad-neighborhood levels while the Mission has stayed flat or better.

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    1. Hi Perceptor – thanks for your feedback!

      The top-to-bottom flip on mobile is actually intentional. The problem with the wide, left-to-right version on mobile is that there just isn’t enough horizontal space on the screen to fit all of the information in. Presenting the chart vertically means using as much of the phone’s space as possible. However, if that is making it harder for you to read the graph, then that’s a problem! I’ll try to work on a version that makes things clearer, and if you have any additional feedback, please let me know at will@missionlocal.com.

      Many thanks,
      Will

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      1. I found the graphics easily accessible on my iPhone. I might have scrolled back up to see the numbers or scrolled down to see the final numbers, but it was simple enough to find what I was looking for.

        Excellent analysis, great visuals, and easily understood. Thank you for your insight and hard work.

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  3. Well done! Beautiful graphics with the scrolling. Brief definitions of each type of crime would have helped me. Thank you!

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