Homicides and shootings may be down in SF, but hundreds still injured by gunfire annually 

click to enlarge Ingleside, along with the Bayview and the Mission, is one of the biggest hot spots for shooting incidents in San Francisco. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2013 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • mike koozmin/2013 s.f. examiner file photo
  • Ingleside, along with the Bayview and the Mission, is one of the biggest hot spots for shooting incidents in San Francisco.

When a 42-year-old man was shot in the leg at Stanyan and Height streets recently, he became a part of a San Francisco crime statistic largely ignored by the public: shooting victims who survive.

The Police Department, like many in the U.S., uses the homicide rate as one of the major benchmarks for levels of violent crime on city streets. That rate happens to be low for a city this size, but that does not mean that violence -- specifically gun violence -- has disappeared.

The FBI's recently released preliminary numbers for the first half of 2013, called the uniform crime report, show that homicides and rapes are down in The City from 2012, but other violent crime is up. Specifically, the report noted that aggravated assaults -- stabbing, shootings, et al. -- and robberies were up in 2013 compared to 2012.

While the number of people shot in San Francisco annually has declined over the past five years when compared to the previous five years, lots of people still get shot every year in The City. The number has fluctuated around 200 since 2009.

Take, for instance, last year. According to police statistics, 161 people were shot and survived, but there were only 48 homicides recorded, 34 of which involved guns.

This year, while there have been 14 homicides, 11 as a result of gunfire, 74 people have suffered from nonlethal gunshot wounds.

That's an improvement when compared to, say, 2007 when 298 shooting victims and 71 homicides from guns alone were recorded, but police say they still worry about gun violence.

"I pay more attention to shootings than I do homicides," Police Chief Greg Suhr told The San Francisco Examiner, noting that every shooting victim is a potential homicide.

There remain far more shooting victims than Suhr would like, but he said shootings and homicides in general have been cut roughly in half in the past five years because of certain police efforts. And that's at a time when the ranks have been cut.

The decline in shootings and the low homicide rate, especially when it comes to shooting deaths, can be attributed to effective emergency services such as the trauma unit at San Francisco General Hospital, Suhr said. But that only tells part of the story, since the hospital and other medical services were all present when shootings and homicides were more common.

Suhr offered another scenario: The City's high graduation rate. That factor is directly attributable to a drop in gun violence since most criminals are high school dropouts -- a point Public Defender Jeff Adachi has agreed upon in the past.

In addition, Suhr said, summer job programs and police involvement in the community have been factors in the trend.

But when it comes to why homicides and shootings are down and how statistics should be used to measure, criminologists disagree.

"If they are down or stable over time, it tells you that life-threatening violence is down or stable over time," UC Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring said about murder rates.

Conversely, looking at shooting victims as a way to understand violent crime is not a good indicator and should not replace homicide rates as a benchmark for violent crime, Zimring said. For one, homicide reporting is very strictly done and based on national standards. Shooting victim statistics, on the other hand, have no such requirement.

But Geoffrey P. Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina, said murder rates are not always the best way to measure violent crime.

"Aggravated assaults are a better figure than murder," he said, noting that shootings and stabbings are included in this category.

As police admit, the fact that a trauma unit is nearby impacts homicide totals, Alpert said, noting one factor in the grim calculus that is the homicide rate. Hence, using homicides as a benchmark for violent crime is ignoring this major factor.

But neither of these approaches gets to the real picture of violent crime, he said.

"Who's shot as opposed to who dies and doesn't die?" is a better question to ask, Alpert said. And, "Why is this person a victim?"

Most often, you find that overall violent crime rates, from homicides to shootings, never really reflect what is happening across any city, he said. Instead, when the numbers are inspected more granularly, they show pockets of crime and victims.

In San Francisco, that means a handful of neighborhoods where most of the homicides and shootings occur -- the Bayview, Ingleside and the Mission.

In 2012, for example, the largest number of shooting victims were concentrated in those three neighborhoods. Seventy of The City's 191 shooting victims that year were injured in the Bayview, 29 in the Mission and 24 in Ingleside.

Shooting victims and homicides 2007-14

- 2014* shooting victims: 74

- Homicides: 14 (11 by firearm)

- 2013 shooting victims: 161

- Homicides: 48 (34 by firearm)

- 2012 shooting victims: 150

- Homicides: 69 (46 by firearm)

- 2011 shooting victims: 168

- Homicides: 50 (34 by firearm)

- 2010 shooting victims: 162

- Homicides: 50 (33 by firearm)

- 2009 shooting victims: 204

- Homicides: 45 (23 by firearm)

- 2008 shooting victims: 190

- Homicides: 97 (79 by firearm)

- 2007 shooting victims: 298

- Homicides: 98 (71 by firearm)

*To date

Source: Police Department

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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