Police beats pushing crime elsewhere

New San Francisco police statistics show a drop in homicides and shootings in certain high-crime areas targeted by a new “zone strategy,” but the numbers also suggest that as the homicide rate continues to climb, some of The City’s gun violence has been pushed into other neighborhoods.

The Police Department’s zone strategy concentrates officers into five geographic areas of The City where the most violent crime has been committed in recent years: Bayview-Hunters Point, the Mission, the Western Addition, the Tenderloin and Visitacion Valley.

The department made the shift — its first major strategy change in four years — at the beginning of 2008, one month after The City recorded its highest homicide rate in more than a decade, with 98 homicides in 2007.

Between February and August of 2008, homicides dropped by 35 percent within the five zones from the previous year, and police seized more than 100 guns.

Nonfatal shootings within the high-crime areas covered by the zones dropped by 38 percent compared with 2007. The most progress was in the Western Addition, where five people were shot, compared with 29 last year.

However, when compared with citywide statistics, the numbers show an increase in crime within neighborhoods that aren’t covered by the zone enforcement strategy. There were 27 homicides outside of the zones in 2008 compared with 21 during the same time in 2007. Shootings are also slightly up, with 43 recorded in 2008 compared with 40 in 2007.

Moreover, the study unveiled by the Police Department only includes homicides from February to August of this year as well as in 2007. Since August of this year, however, there have been 18 homicides recorded in San Francisco, which account for nearly 22 percent of the 78 homicides recorded this year. After August of 2007, there were 34 homicides tallied, accounting for one-third of 2007’s homicides.

The department unveiled its first study on the strategy Wednesday to the Police Commission. Police Chief Heather Fong said she is “very pleased with the success.” It compared the number of shootings, homicides and gun seizures in the first six months of the strategy with the same period in 2007.

“There has been impact,” Fong told reporters Wednesday. “There has been a positive impact, but we need to keep moving forward.”

Police cite a 2006 Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government study that claims 45 percent to 50 percent of the violent crime in San Francisco occurs in less than 2 percent of the neighborhoods. In the past, the department has solely targeted individuals or groups believed to be responsible for a majority of the crimes. The study was the basis for a $754,000 federal grant awarded to The City in 2007.

Anthony Braga, the study’s author, said displacement is only a minor issue with what is known as a “hot spots policing scheme,” which is one of the few strategies in law enforcement that has positive research behind it.

“Some find minor issues with displacement, but the gains in high-crime areas usually pay off,” he said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

Homicides by year

2005  96

2006  85

2007  98

2008 (to date)  78

Source: SFPD

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