City’s summer challenge — crime

The beginning of summer is a time for vacations and relaxation for many. But for law-enforcement officials, it’s a time of anxiety. Better weather, more free time for youths and longer days are an annual recipe for an increase in violent crime in San Francisco.

This year, it didn’t take long for the examples to begin to pile up. Last week, a 16-year-old boy was shot in the back at a bus stop at 16th and Church streets minutes after he got out of summer school at Mission High, and recent days have brought news of more shootings and slayings.

In many San Francisco crimes, a “don’t snitch” culture among residents in high-crime areas and a fear of retaliation make it difficult for police to find witnesses willing to talk. That unwillingness is exacerbated when witnesses who come forward are slain despite being in the district attorney’s witness protection program, as happened recently.

Last week, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced he was providing additional funding to the District Attorney’s Office for additional staffing in the witness protection and gun-violence units. The mayor also announced a series of steps his office was taking to stem the tide as the summer months kicked in, including social services, employment opportunities and addiction treatment, among other measures.

The mayor has been outspoken in his commitment to reducing violence in The City, and his latest funding enhancements — coming as they do on the heels of the defeat of a well-meaning but poorly designed June ballot proposition that would have earmarked $10 million a year for violence-prevention funding — are to be applauded. But lost in the debate over The City’s crime rate is one important fact: Exactly how violent is San Francisco compared to other cities?

According to FBI statistics, San Francisco records 757 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, which is well below the state and national mean for violent crimes, and far less than Oakland, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Richmond. Nationally, it has less than half the per-capita incidence of violent crime as Atlanta, and far less than many other large cities, including Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Charlotte, N.C., and Denver. Its numbers are comparable to Portland, Ore., and among large American cities only New York, Phoenix and Seattle are less violent than San Francisco.

That’s no consolation for a mother who sees her son gunned down in the street, or a child who grows up without a father. But it does indicate that city officials mustn’t view The City’s violence as unmanageable, become panic-stricken or retreat into the outmoded thinking of just throwing money at the problem. San Francisco’s crime problems can be addressed and lessened through smart public policy and measured, targeted responses, even in the long, hot days of summer.

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