Officials shrug off S.F. homicides

The messages issuing from City Hall and the Hall of Justice about San Francisco’s highest yearly homicide total in the last decade were meant to reassure the public that municipal officials are doing everything possible to make TheCity safer. This year’s 97 murders were labeled part of a greater national outbreak and an unpredictable product of random violence.

A police spokesman talked of a nationwide homicide increase and specifically said this year’s count is nothing to panic about, compared with 1977 when 141 people were murdered in San Francisco.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office called attention to all that has been done so far — street cameras, more police trainees, anti-gang injunctions, etc. — and said the mayor is doing “everything he can” to get more officers onto the streets.

And an SFPD Homicide Squad lieutenant claimed homicide was up everywhere, specifically listing cities including New York.

If homicide tallies are truly rising throughout the U.S., how come the murder rate in Manhattan is down by 40 percent since 2006, with only 65 murders in 2007 to date? That would be about one-third less than supposedly laid-back San Francisco, which is roughly the same size and population as Manhattan. The Manhattan trend has been consistent, with 648 murders in 1975 and 147 a decade ago.

New York City was the murder capital of the United States in 1990, with an all-time-high homicide total of 2,245 in all five boroughs. But so far in 2007, New York with its 8.2 million population had only 464 homicides. If that number does not go higher than 500, it would be the fewest murders of any year since 1963.

This eye-opening statistical comparison appears to be all the proof needed that at least one formerly murder-ridden American city has found a way to reduce its homicide rate. Unfortunately, San Francisco officials seem to prefer making weak excuses instead of moving to make The City safer for law-abiding residents.

A New York University expert in police tactics attributes New York’s spectacular crime decrease to effective and realistic police practices, consistent follow-up on detail and proactive street assignments. He particularly singles out the CompStat computer system that tracks crime statistics on a daily street-by-street basis and the police chief’s policy of putting nearly two-thirds of all graduating police cadets into neighborhoods known to have the highest violent-crime rate.

This is exactly the sort of thing that San Francisco police could and should be doing. Perhaps Mayor Newsom has forgotten his one-time promise to dramatically lower The City’s violent crimes, or else he would resign. However, The Examiner definitely has not forgotten. And this year’s 97 homicides show that the time has come for Newsom and police Chief Heather Fong to stamp out the turf wars and get serious about stopping murder victims from piling up on city streets.

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