More homicide cases cracked

Homicides have plummeted this year in The City, and more people are also being arrested and charged in those murders than in the last three years.

The issue of rising homicide totals has long been a hot-button political issue in City Hall, especially since killings increased between the time Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed former Chief Heather Fong in 2004 and this year, with calls for reorganizing the Police Department and forcing the Board of Supervisors to mandate foot patrols.

Along with the push to lower the number of homicides in The City, there has been pressure to solve a greater percentage of those slayings.
A new report from the City Controller’s Office shows that between July 2006 and June 2007, there were 93 homicides recorded in The City with only 22 arrests.

Those averages, about 24 percent, lagged far behind national averages in clearance rates. A homicide is cleared when someone is arrested for a crime or police have identified the killer. The national average has been more than 50 percent for cities with similar populations, according to statistics kept by the FBI. San Francisco police and FBI officials say such comparisons are difficult, though, as same-size cities vary widely in youth population and other variables.

In addition to the lower number of arrests between 2006 and 2007, there were only 19 homicide cases filed.

The report, a year-end performance measurement survey, shows that the trend of years of dismal arrest rates for homicides reversed last year. Between July 2007 and June 2008, there was a decrease in the number of killings, with The City recording just 70 homicides. During that same time, there were 41 arrests — more than one person arrested for every two people killed. There were also 40 people charged with homicide.

The drop in homicides has been credited to several factors, but especially to stepped-up enforcement, a federal gang sting and more aggressive prosecution of homicides.

The Police Department’s zone strategy, which concentrates enforcement in The City’s most violent neighborhoods — including Bayview-Hunters Point, Mission, Western Addition, Tenderloin and Visitacion Valley — has resulted in a dramatic decrease in murders, Newsom said earlier this year.

The drop in homicides has allowed the Police Department to solve more of the murders, according to Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman, who oversees operations and, starting in November, the investigations bureau.

“That allows investigators more time to take on a smaller number of homicides that have a higher percentage of solvability,” Cashman said.

Prosecutions for killings increase

                FY2006-07    FY2007-08    FY2008-09
Homicides reported    93    99    70
Homicide arrests    22    25    41
Homicide cases filed    19    21    40
Avg. cases per attorney in homicide unit    11    9    10

Source: City Controller’s Office

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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