A surprising drop in S.F.’s serious crimes

When it comes to the worrisome statistics on serious crime in San Francisco, even a glimmer of hope is welcome. And that is exactly what the Police Department delivered Monday to the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee.

Totals for 2007 indicated an encouraging decrease in violent crimes and major crimes against property.

Homicide was the only exception to the good news. The body count last year was already known to be 98, the highest number of killings in a decade. But overall there were almost 200 fewer violent crimes — aggravated assault, homicide, rape and robbery — than reported during 2006. And property crimes — arson, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft — dropped by a solid 10 percent since 2005.

In recent months, The Examiner certainly did not shirk from placing blame on Mayor Gavin Newsom and police Chief Heather Fong for failing to lower The City’s unacceptably high homicide rate.

So it is only fair that Newsom and Fong share credit for the pleasantly surprising news of a general crime reduction in San Francisco.

That being said, a close examination of the numbers shows that for most crimes the totals have dropped only when compared to 2006. The figures from 2005 are almost uniformly lower, with just a few positive exceptions.

Reported rapes are down for a third consecutive year, with the 178 being reported for 2007 representing a drop of 34 since 2005. Also diminishing for three straight years were burglaries and motor vehicle theft.

It would be preferable if the underlying causes of those lowered crime rates were less mysterious. As of now, nobody seems to truly know exactly what specific police policies succeeded.

And despite any bright spots, The City is undoubtedly suffering an epidemic of gun crimes, with firearms used in 73 of 98 homicides in 2007.

One strategy that might help would be the implementation of technology for tracking location of gunfire in real time. ShotSpotter, based in Mountain View, has received generally positive reviews in 26 cities, including Oakland, Redwood City and East Palo Alto. It places networks of global positioning system sensors on rooftops to triangulate where a gun was fired from.

The data is automatically relayed to dispatchers within seconds, enabling police to respond more quickly to shooting scenes.

A test of ShotSpotter is now under way in the Bayview and Western Addition, utilizing $400,000 the Board of Supervisors appropriated in November.

Hopefully we will soon find out whether this leads to a meaningful reduction in shooting incidents, as it has reportedly done in Oakland by 30 percent.

General OpinionOpinion

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