SF police report drop in crime, but numbers are inconsistent 

The Police Department's crime statistics show that The City reported 45 homicides in 2014, compared with 48 in 2013, a 6.25 percent decrease. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photo
  • The Police Department's crime statistics show that The City reported 45 homicides in 2014, compared with 48 in 2013, a 6.25 percent decrease.

San Francisco experienced a decline in nearly every reported crime in 2014, although there were some inconsistencies with other data sets.

The Police Department released the statistics in mid-February. But the numbers are a bit of a head-scratcher. That's because they don't match other statistics released by the department, which seems to show that police are contradicting themselves.

What the two sets of numbers do confirm is that the statistics showing a drop in most crimes have evolved. In other words, the difference between the department's numbers in the 2013 annual report and the 2014 report is that the new numbers make the department look better.

For example, the department's recent statistical release shows that there was a 22 percent decline in robberies from 2013 to 2014.

But when the number of reported robberies in 2014 — 3,267 — is set side by side with the department's 2013 annual report, the change is only 18 percent.

That divergence was similar in almost every other crime category. Again, when using the 2013 annual report's numbers, burglary dropped by 5 percent in contrast with the 10.79 percent decline recently reported.

Inconsistent crime statistics are not new for the department. Even Police Chief Greg Suhr has admitted there are issues.

For instance, CompStat, the department's real-time crime statistics system, which is only one source used in the February data release, has been problematic since it came online in 2009.

Suhr asked the City Controller's Office to audit the system in 2012. CompStat, according to the audit, fluctuates because of the many data sources it collects; is prone to errors, since the data is manually compiled; and the statistics available to the public vary.

"CompStat is a compilation from several sources that give us the closest to real-time information as currently as possible," Suhr told The San Francisco Examiner in June.

Last week, he said the system has improved in the past three years and that explains the divergence in numbers from year to year. By the end of 2015, Suhr added, the department plans to have a uniform system for cataloging crimes instead of the current one cobbled together from several sources.

That system will be the FBI's definitions for crimes in the federal agency's Uniform Crime Reporting system.

Confusing police crime reports

2014 crime stats provided by police, with prior year numbers and the percentage change:

- Homicide: 45 (2013: 48) Change: 6.25 percent decrease

- Robbery: 3,267 (2013: 4,202 Change: 22.25 percent decrease

- Aggravated assault: 3,116 (2013: 2,653) Change: 17.45 percent increase

- Burglary: 5,291 (2013: 5,931 Change: 10.79 percent decrease

- Auto theft*: 6,175 (2013: 5,866 Change: 5.27 percent increase

- Arson: 241 (2013: 207) Change: 6.17 percent increase

- Larceny and theft*: 34,384 (2013: 36,527) Change: 6.14 percent decrease

* definitions changed in 2014

Numbers reported in 2013 annual report and the difference from the above numbers:

- Homicide: 48 (same)

- Robbery: 4,000 (202 less)

- Aggravated assault: 3,781 (1,128 more)

- Burglary: 5,574 (357 less)

- Auto theft: 5,745 (121 less)

- Arson: 218 (11 more)

- Larceny and theft: 35,623 (904 less)

A new legal definition of rape implemented in 2014 makes it difficult to accurately compare the data sets. Here are the numbers in the past two annual reports:

- 2014: 317

- 2013: 289

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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