In recent years, the Police Department’s poor record on solving homicide cases was a municipal embarrassment, as was The City’s relatively high violent crime rate.
But the announcement this week that the homicide total in 2011 remained steady, and that violent crime was down 6 percent, shows that some strategies are working.
Outsider police Chief George Gascón, before becoming district attorney, forcefully brought in improved crime-fighting tactics, and now Chief Greg Suhr has built on that foundation.
The number of homicides in San Francisco last year was 50 — the same as in 2010. This might appear to be a flat trend, but it actually represents the lowest annual killing total since way back in the 1960s. For decades, The City routinely bumped up against a 100-homicide total at the end of every year. It became a kind of macabre annual scorekeeping event.
The biggest drops in violent-crime categories for 2011 came in rapes (down 12 percent), aggravated assaults (down 9 percent), burglaries (down 5 percent) and robberies (down 2 percent). The police and the mayor credited this year’s “historic lows” to the SFPD concentration on rapid task force response to violent crimes — a focus implemented after Suhr took office in April.
After a homicide, shooting or other violent crime, the Police Department sends, along with investigators, violence-reduction teams or gang task force members to the neighborhood in an effort to prevent retaliation.
The one exception to the local crime downtrend was a 3 percent rise in property thefts, apparently spurred by a jump in stolen personal electronic devices — iPads, iPods, BlackBerrys, laptop computers and the like. A significant percentage of these popular compact items are simply taken from broken-into cars where they were left in clear view, much to the frustration of police.
Mayor Ed Lee credited a combination of factors for the historic lows in San Francisco violent crimes even during these “tough economic times.” He noted a long-sought improvement in neighborhood cooperation with the police, triggered by the SFPD’s success with targeted approaches to violent crime and aggressive crime-prevention strategies.
The department’s focus on fugitive apprehension, drug enforcement and firearms seizures produced 660 arrests in the first 4½ months after Suhr took office.
“Our goal is for San Francisco to be the safest big city in America,” Suhr said. This outcome now seems a lot more feasible than it would have been only a few years ago.