San Francisco mayor, police chief offer a more full analysis of crime beyond viral videos

San Francisco Mayor London Breed. 

San Francisco's mayor and police chief say recent videos of high profile crimes in the city don't tell the whole story. They're saying there are some areas where crime is down, but say there's a lot of hard work ahead.

While some crime, like auto break-ins, have gone down since mid-2019, other areas, like gun violence and homicides are up. Still they agree, the recent high-profile violent crimes and incidents of shoplifting and theft caught on camera need to be addressed.

San Francisco's mayor and police chief stood shoulder to shoulder to discuss where the city stands when it comes to crime, and say a fuller analysis of the city's crime data gives a much clearer snapshot rather than the viral videos of mass shoplifting or incidents of violence. 

"But, what's not going viral, what's not being brought to the forefront is that in almost every single instance, our police department have arrested many of the people in these particular crimes," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

The police chief says at the year's midpoint they now have enough data to look for trends coming out of the pandemic. Homicides he says are slightly up from a 58-year low in 2019.

San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott said there were 119 shootings in the first half of the year, compared to 58 in 2020. The number includes both fatal and nonfatal shootings

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The chief says detectives have been working hard to catch the killers. 

"Our investigators do a magnificent job in terms of solving homicide cases," said Chief Scott. "We're at about a 92% clearance rate for homicides, or 90% clearance rate for homicides year to date."

Police say the data show that despite the high-profile videos of what the chief says are unacceptable brazen robberies, the rates are actually trending downward. 

"Here's the reality," said Chief Scott. "The reality is that our robberies from 2018 to year-to-date have gone down each year. We hope to continue that."

The chief says his officers are changing strategies to try to address the mass theft incidents. He says that's part of the reason why he's trying to expand the department to get more officers on the streets, a proven deterrent, he says to theft and assaults.

The mayor also says the city is working on a comprehensive strategy to address thefts, and says it begins with consequences. "We have to definitely there are tools to hold people accountable," said Mayor Breed. "But more importantly we have to look at the data and allow that to help guide us."

Aggravated assaults are down from 2019. In 2019, 1,193 aggravated assaults occurred compared to 1,092 so far this year and 1,049 last year mid-year.

Areas that saw mid-year decreases include rape cases, with 88 reported so far this year, compared to 111 in 2020 and 202 in 2019; robberies with 1,123 reported in this year, compared to 1,269 in 2020 and 1,383 in 2019.

The reality is, the police chief acknowledged that in many cases his officers are arresting the same suspects over and over again, who have been released from jail for one reason or another. Creating the appearance of a revolving door for criminals. 

"We need to work better together with the district attorney with these repeat offenders," said Chief Scott. "Our investigators work very closely when we have a repeat offender to advocate to the district attorney's office for a detention."

Absent from today's event was District Attorney Chesa Boudin. His office released a statement about mid-year crime statistics reading in part "We also know that, despite the data, many people do not feel safe. We are dedicated to working with Chief Scott and the Mayor on a range of existing and new initiatives to ensure that San Franciscans both are and feel safe."

Breed said with the $65 million she's invested in this year's budget for public safety, she's hoping a network of strategies, including street crime prevention, victim services, wellness teams and street crisis response teams, will help bring the crime numbers down.

"All of these things are a part of our network of trying to address public safety. It's not just about funding the police or defunding the police. It's not just about funding one program over another, it's about a comprehensive strategy to make sure that the right investments are being made," she said.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there about what's happening in San Francisco. We know that numbers don't matter when you're the victim of a crime, any crime in any capacity, but at the end of the day we have to use this data to make a decision about our policies and our investments," she said.

In regard to the uptick in homicides and gun violence, Scott said his department is collaborating with organizations like the California Partnership for Safe Communities to address the root causes of violence happening within communities.

But he said, the proliferation of ghost guns, which can be ordered online and easily assembled without a serial number, continues to play a role in the rise in gun violence.

"We have to get a handle on this," he said. "The number of illegal ghost guns that we have confiscated over the past four years... has increased exponentially."

Scott added that while the Police Department continues to face staffing issues, with the department currently short some 400 officers, the department is stepping-up recruitment efforts.

"It's going to take time and we have to be patient, but we can't let that be the excuse for not doing what we need to do," he said.

Bay City News reporter Daniel Montes contributed to this story.