Crime is on the rise in San Francisco, and political leaders have called for more cops. But in the last year and a half, The City’s police have been making fewer arrests for the most serious offenses, according to police numbers.
“The overall arrest rate has declined by 42 percent since 2010,” said Max Szabo, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office. “We’re making less than 18 arrests citywide every day.”
Last year’s 15 percent arrest rate for serious crimes, according to police data, was the lowest it’s been in seven years, while the number of reported serious crimes was near a peak for that period.
More recently, the first half of this year saw an even larger decline in arrests, despite an increasing crime rate. Arrests for serious crimes — rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and car theft — fluctuated around 11 percent from January to April (the numbers for May were not available).
Yet from January to May, serious violent crime jumped 16 percent, and serious property crimes rose by 20 percent.
“You’re going to have an epidemic of auto burglaries when thieves aren’t being arrested 98 percent of the time,” Szabo said, pointing out that the District Attorney’s Office has continued to prosecute serious crimes at the same rate as in past years.
But police, whose staffing has been in decline in recent years, did not reply to requests for comment by press time.
Questions about arrest rates come amid an ongoing debate over whether San Francisco needs more cops. Last week the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution saying The City needs more officers to deal with increased population and crime.
But what that debate has not touched on is how well the department is doing fighting crime or whether arrest rates, police staffing and crime can even be linked.
Supervisor Jane Kim thinks there is no correlation between the number of cops and crime levels, and has said as much recently.
At a hearing on the issue two weeks ago, Kim pointed out that staffing doesn’t necessarily correspond with crime rates. “None of these stats say whether there’s a link or not,” she said about a controller’s report on staffing levels in San Francisco. “We can’t arrest our way out of crime.”
Data on the number of cops, the rate of arrests and the number of reported crimes paint an equally unclear picture.
From 2010 to 2014, serious crime, referred to as Part 1 crime, fluctuated from 38,112 incidents in 2010 to 52,736 in 2014. But in that same period the level of arrests for those offenses did not change dramaticaly, regardless of crime rates or staffing levels.
In 2010, when crime rates were low and staffing was high, Part 1 crime 7,279 arrests were made. But in 2014 when crime rates had risen markedly and staffing had dropped, 7,946 Part 1 arrests were made.
In fiscal year 2013-14, SFPD had 1,960 sworn officers, but over those same two years the serious crime rate declined slightly, but arrest rates were 15 percent lower than the previous six years. Conversely, in 2009 the staffing levels peaked at about 2,350 and crime was low, yet the arrest rate was 20 percent.
Rank-and-file police officers have told the San Francisco Examiner they don’t go after as many criminals as they used to because they feel the District Attorney’s Office will only slap them on the wrist instead of charging them with serious crimes.
To some degree, especially when it comes to petty property crimes and drug charges, the DA’s Office has intentionally stepped back from more aggressive approaches to prosecution. Since 2008, overall criminal filings in the courts have gone from 13,750 a year to 6,605 in 2014. Much
of that decline comes from a move away from prosecuting most drug offenses.
But when it comes to serious violent and property crimes, the DA’s Office contends they have doubled down, and say data backs it up. Since 2010 their charging rate for felonies has stayed steady, no matter the number of arrests.