San Francisco’s 2009 homicide total was 45 — down from 98 in 2008 with a drop of 54 percent. It was also The City’s lowest murder total since the 36 killings of 1961, almost 50 years ago.
Violent crime in The City also decreased 10 percent from 2008, with nonfatal shootings dropping 40 percent. Mission district homicides are down 75 percent and violent crimes dropped 13 percent. Bayview district homicides are down 42 percent while violent crime plunged 17 percent.
The City also saw a drop in the homicides of racial minorities. Last year 22 African-American males were murdered in San Francisco, halving 2008’s total of 44. Eight Hispanic men were killed — just one-third of the 24 from 2008.
Suspects were identified in about two-thirds of this year’s killings — at least twice as many as the past two years’ embarrassing rate. Certainly the decline in murders helped solve more cases, but the homicide unit was also expanded from about a dozen detectives to 30 — allowing more efficient teams of four investigators per homicide, instead of just two.
It seems evident that substantial credit for these improvements must go to some powerful changes in the San Francisco Police Department, beginning about 18 months ago under retired Chief Heather Fong and now reaching high gear under Chief George Gascón. A new emphasis on community policing in traditional high-crime districts is proving its value.
More plainclothes officers are assigned to district stations. There is a beefed-up gang task force and 24 officers assigned to public housing. The SFPD is converting to the computerized crime-tracking system that has worked impressively in New York City and elsewhere.
In addition, The City is mirroring a surprising nationwide development. New FBI crime statistics for the first half of 2009 show crime falling throughout the recession-battered U.S., with homicides down 10 percent. Of course, one less violent year does not prove a trend in San Francisco or nationally. The City’s first 2010 slaying victim was found on an Excelsior sidewalk New Year’s weekend.
At a year-end press conference, Mayor Gavin Newsom accurately summarized the hopeful situation. “Is that solace to the families who have been victimized by violence?” he said. “Of course not, and I can only imagine how they’re feeling when the mayor announces a half-century reduction in homicides. We know we can do more.”
San Francisco cannot drop its vigilance against criminal violence. Law enforcement funding must not be cut in any way to weaken the successful SFPD changes that are making The City safer for us all.