By Erik Honda
Vice-President, Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association
The Duboce Triangle is a leafy neighborhood tucked in between the Castro and the Lower Haight. With a population of about 30,000, it feels like a small town. So when our small town suffered two homicides in 2014, and then a series of severe and unprovoked assaults in 2015 and 2016, residents were concerned.
Despite extensive video and eyewitness evidence in several of these incidences, perpetrators were never found or arrested. The Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association reached out to our local police captain and the homicide department of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). We wanted to understand how homicides and assaults are investigated in San Francisco and our neighborhood — and to what degree they are solved.
We didn’t have a lot of luck. Homicide detectives refused to attend our meetings (they said it might compromise their investigations). The SFPD didn’t seem to want to tell us how often homicide and assault crimes were solved, or “cleared.”
“Clearance Rate” is police lingo for the percentage of crimes that result in an arrest and a charge. It is obviously an important statistic, but if the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association’s experience is any guide, the SFPD does not want this information to become public. Unlike many cities around the country San Francisco does not publish homicide or assault clearance statistics on a regular basis. We wonder why.
Eventually, with dogged persistence and the help of then-Supervisor Scott Wiener’s office, we were able to complete a Request for Information that in June of 2016 resulted in the release of the statistics printed on the image below. The numbers are interesting.
Citywide, over the 10-year period from 2006-2015, homicides declined from 84 a year to 53. Yet during that time the clearance rate didn’t budge — the 2015 rate of 43 percent is about the same as the 10-year average of 44 percent. Even more worryingly, despite a fairly low number of homicides for a city of our size, the clearance rate for homicides in San Francisco is much lower than the national average. In 2013, the national clearance rate was 64 percent — more than 20 percentage points higher than ours.
Assaults are a similar story. Between 2006 and 2015 assaults declined from about 13,000 a year to about 11,000 a year. The 39 percent clearance rate in 2015 was three percent less than the 42 percent 10-year average. These are serious crimes, and they are not being solved.
It is worth noting that since 2008 there has been a large increase in SFPD funding and officers — thanks in part to the efforts of former Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is now our state senator.
So with the increase in resources, why haven’t outcomes improved? It’s hard to get answers.
This year we asked the SFPD for the 2016 numbers so we could see if there was any improvement. Unfortunately we got the same run-around that we got the first time. Despite 27 e-mails back and forth between the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association leadership, the SFPD and the Supervisor Jeff Sheehy’s office (who replaced Scott Wiener), we still haven’t been provided the 2016 statistics as of December 2017.
It is the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association’s belief that crime clearance statistics should be published annually in a public forum (like on the SFPD website). We also think it would be a good idea if our mayor and our supervisors would start looking into why we keep providing more resources to our police department, and we are not getting improved results.
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