By Nancy Tung
If you had an extra $1 million to fight the auto burglary epidemic raging through San Francisco, where would you spend it?
Would you give it to the police department to add investigative resources to make more arrests, or would you give it to the District Attorney’s Office to fund more prosecutions?
Recently, San Francisco District Attorney Gascon announced a $1 million request to the Board of Supervisors to fund a “task force” of prosecutors, investigators and analysts within the DA’s existing Crime Strategies Unit (CSU) to address the problem. Gascon claimed the appropriation would result in a 20 percent reduction in auto burglaries within a year’s time.
Gascon’s CSU has been in existence since 2014 as a “multi-disciplinary team of Neighborhood Prosecutors, analysts and investigators that uses a data-driven approach to resourcefully address chronic crime. Neighborhood Prosecutors work shoulder to shoulder with our law enforcement partners, neighborhood stakeholders, and the community to develop long lasting solutions to the City’s major crime issues,” according to the District Attorney website.
Yet auto burglaries have been on the rise consistently over the last several years. In the year Gascon’s CSU was established, there were 19,871 auto burglaries reported. In 2015, there were 26,040 auto burglaries and 24,624 in 2016. By 2017, there were more than 30,000 auto burglaries. So in the years that CSU has been in existence, there has actually been a 50 percent increase in auto burglaries despite the DA’s assertion that CSU addresses “chronic crime” and develops “long lasting solutions.”
The rise in auto burglaries has been a serious issue for a significant period of time. In June 2016, the civil grand jury issued a report with recommendations numerous recommendations to battle the rising numbers of auto burglaries. While incidents resulting in arrest and prosecution make up a small percentage of the outcomes, the vast majority of the work needs to be done by patrol officers and investigators to make arrests.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott formed a citywide General Crimes Investigation Unit in November 2017 to investigate auto burglaries and other property crimes. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The 48-person team, including 13 civilians with the crime analysis unit, will look into auto break-ins, along with home burglaries, robberies and bicycle thefts.”
Adding additional funding to this unit would centralize the policing effort, which is consistent with recommendations of the civil grand jury.
While auto burglaries were on the rise in 2014 to 2017, Gascon was not able to make a dent in the problem even though the unit he wants to fund was already in existence. It is unclear how a $1 million appropriation to Gascon's CSU would make a 20 percent reduction in auto burglaries when CSU has not made a difference in auto burglary incidents at all in the last three to four years.
If the Board of Supervisors allocates additional crime-fighting dollars to the growing problem of auto burglaries, it should go to the police department, who have boots on the ground and its own data crunching analysts. Any other appropriation would simply be wasted dollars.
Nancy Tung was as assistant district attorney in San Francisco from 2006 to 2017. She is currently a prosecutor in Alameda County and lives in San Francisco. Tung also serves on the Stop Crime SF board of directors. The views in her blog posts are her own and not of her employer or the Stop Crime SF board.