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Regional Interests

SF Leaders Say Robbery and Theft Are Down Despite Narratives of Rampant Crime

San Francisco city leaders say the prevailing perception that crime is running rampant — a key argument behind an effort to remove District Attorney Chesa Boudin from office — doesn’t quite square with the statistics.

Robbery, rape, and larceny theft are down, according to the San Francisco Police Department’s mid-year report on public safety statistics. Thefts, including those at retail stores, are down by 9% compared to this time last year according to the report.

“Not every crime is reported, but we can only go by what we know: It’s been a steady decrease,” said SFPD Police Chief Bill Scott. “The statistics are counter to the narrative.”

Scott, who presented the data with Mayor London Breed at a press conference Monday, said viral videos and news coverage of crime in San Francisco are contributing to a false perception of lawlessness.

“We know that numbers don’t matter when you’re a victim of a crime, any crime, in any capacity,” said Breed. “But at the end of the day, we have to use this data to make a decision about our policies and our investments.”

While most violent crime is down, gun violence and burglaries are up. So are crimes such as homicides, aggravated assault, car break-ins and auto thefts — though not as high as recent years.

San Francisco has reported 26 homicides so far this year, for example, compared to 22 by this time in 2020. Despite the increase over last year, the mid-year number is significantly lower than the 34 reported homicides by mid-2017.

“These things, they get in our head,” Scott said, referring to videos capturing violent crime and circulating on social media. “And people start to believe that that is our city. But that is not our city.”

Fears of rising crime have also driven calls to remove San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin from office. Those behind the effort to remove him from his position have said Boudin’s progressive approach to the office gives criminals the green light to commit crimes in the city.

“Look at the facts,” Boudin said about those calling for his removal. “The numbers are something that my office, the police department and all of San Francisco should be proud of.”

John Hamasaki, a public defender and San Francisco police commissioner who supports Boudin, said the anxiety around the pandemic and heightened calls for police accountability after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer created a “perfect storm” of fear exploited by right-wing media and conservatives.

“Unfortunately, I think the press conference today was probably a necessary way of pushing back on that and saying, well, that’s terrible that people feel that way,” Hamasaki said. “But let’s take a moment, let’s step back, and let’s look at the facts. Let’s look at what we know, and then coming up with strategies for the crime that does exist.”

Copyright 2021 KQED