San Francisco police chief says added officers around Union Square driving crime down

San Francisco police say their saturation around Union Square has made the area safer for store employees and shoppers.

Chief Bill Scott said officers fixated around Union Square have deterred crime, but he understands it's not sustainable to have that many officers permanently patrolling the area as it could potentially leave other parts of the city with fewer officers.

Scott said data shows the boosted police presence in that part of the city is driving down crime.

"We've seen a significant drop in crime overall," he said. "We're talking about from theft to cars being broken into, to burglaries."

The police department said it has the first set of data comparing crime stats from the 16 days, before and after the Nov. 19 flash mob-style mass-theft incident at Union Square. Overall the department found that crime in the area is down by 82%. Assaults are down by two-thirds from three incidents to just one, burglaries down by 91%, theft down by 82%.

The Union Square Alliance said, "the recent response to public safety, traffic management and a robust presence by the San Francisco Police Department are resulting in large crowds coming back downtown to shop, skate, eat, and enjoy their holiday season in a safe environment."

While it seems to be working, the question is how long can police maintain that presence.

"We're going to keep this deployment through the holiday season," said Chief Scott. "Through Christmas, through New Years. Then we will have an increase in deployment from what it used to be. I can't guarantee that it will be at this level, but we're going to keep this as long as we can."

Another concern is the possibility that criminals are simply shifting their behavior out of the area for the time being.

District 11 Supervisor Asha Safaí from the city's southern neighborhoods says the police surge around Union Square was the right move, but that it's not sustainable. Other commercial areas also need police.

"We've had a small surge in our neighborhood near the cannabis businesses where people are breaking into cars and robberies are happening there that they've now diverted resources to," said Supervisor Safaí. "So, you absolutely need to make sure that you can spread out the resources throughout the city."

Scott said it will take time to gather data to get a better picture of how the surge at Union Square has impacted the rest of the city.

"We do have an entire city to police and we are putting officers in other parts of the city as well because we don't want problems to disappear from here and go to another part of the city," said Scott.