By Erik Honda
Vice-President, Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association
Since 2014, when the Triangle was stunned by two homicides that remain unsolved to this day, DTNA has been working to learn when and how and to what degree homicides, assaults, and other crimes are solved (or in police parlance, “cleared”).
In general, it has been difficult for DTNA to get information from the SFPD. Unlike many cities around the country San Francisco does not publish homicide or assault clearance statistics on a regular basis. In 2016, with dogged persistence and the help of then Supervisor Scott Wiener’s office, we were able to complete a Request for Information that resulted in the release of a ten-year history of clearance statistics, from 2006-2015. Unfortunately the data showed that while crime (homicides and assaults, the two crimes for which we asked for statistics) had trended down over that period, the clearance rate had remained basically flat. So…fewer crimes, same percentage getting solved, doesn’t suggest very effective policing.
Since then SFPD has been reluctant to release more stats. Despite the strong efforts of both supervisors who succeeded Wiener, we were not able to get the statistics updated for 2016 and 2017 until just this February.
As we detailed in an article in the December 2018 DTNA News, we finally pulled it off by working with another organization, Stop Crime SF. Stop Crime SF was originally focused on the low clearance rate for car break-ins (fewer than 2% of all car break-ins in the city result in an arrest), but has since expanded their area of concern to holding the police department, and the justice system more generally, accountable. They have instituted a Court Watch program, where volunteers attend the trials and sentencing hearings of serial criminals, to be sure that the community’s desire for justice and accountability is not thwarted.
In October of 2018 two DTNA Board members met in Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s office with two Stop Crime SF Board Members, Joel Engardio and Nancy Tung (who is also a candidate for District Attorney). Following that meeting Supervisor Mandelman scheduled a hearing to allow the supervisors ask SFPD a few pointed questions under oath. In advance of the hearing, the SFPD provided updated statistics for assaults in the years 2013 through 2018, as well as car break-in statistics for those same years.
Unfortunately the new statistics do not match the ones SFPD provided previously. In their latest report they said there were 7,326 assaults citywide in 2013, whereas previously they said there were 10,481. Similar large discrepancies occur in the rest of the assault statistics, both at the station (Park District) and neighborhood (the Triangle) level. DTNA has asked for an explanation of the inconsistency, but as of this writing one has not been forthcoming. In addition the SFPD has still failed to provide the statistics in the one area (homicides) that originally got us interested.
One thing that hasn’t changed between the two reports is that assaults remain unacceptably high - according to the figures they gave us there were 7,548 assaults citywide in 2018, including 70 in the Triangle. The police chief and his district captains have recently been standing up in front of city officials and local reporters who are apparently too busy to check the facts, in order to tout short-term decreases in crime. But according to their own statistics, looking at the long-term trends crime is not going down.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is that SFPD is not solving very many crimes. The assault clearance rate has remained fairly flat at around 36% for several years now. And car break-ins, which are at an epidemic level in San Francisco (we have the worst rate in the country per capita) are basically never solved – for every level (citywide, in the Park District, and in the Triangle) the clearance rate actually got worse between 2013 and 2018, with the 2018 clearance rate at 2%. In other words 98% of the people who break into cars are never caught.
DTNA and Stop Crime SF want to have this sort of information posted yearly on the SFPD website, readily accessible website as “Crime Trends”. It’s impossible to hold our public servants accountable without reliable, publicly available information.
DTNA and Stop Crime SF will continue to working together on other accountability issues, such as increasing the percentage of officers who live in San Francisco in order to increase understanding of the community, and reducing the round-robin reassignment of district station chiefs (which again reduces accountability). We’d like your help too. If you are not already a member of both of these organizations, please join, and consider signing up for a Court Watch slot at the Stop Crime SF website: www.stopcrimesf.com
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