Proven police strategies welcome

Almost half of San Francisco’s violent crimes are committed in less than 2 percent of the neighborhoods, according to a 2006 Harvard study. And criminology experts consistently credit police saturation of high-violence zones as perhaps the most effective strategy in a comprehensive program that shrank New York’s 2007 murder rate to its lowest in 45 years.

Meanwhile, The City’s 98 homicides last year were its highest total in more than a decade.

Now, the San Francisco Police Department has finally announced it will start playing “zone defense” in the five geographic areas where most violent crimes were committed in recent years.

Extra teams of SWAT, narcotics, gang task force and traffic officers — plus state and federal agents — will rotate patrols of Bayview-Hunters Point, the Mission, Western Addition, Tenderloin and Visitacion Valley. The Bayview district, which tallied one-quarter of our 2007 homicides, will see the most personnel.

The new SFPD field operations bureau chief, Cmdr. Kevin Cashman, said the new violence-zone redeployments will not weaken the department, although the SFPD is still hundreds of officers short of its charter-mandated force of 1,971.

Predictably enough for San Francisco, politically correct warnings already claim such a strategy could lead to arbitrary profiling and unwarranted harassment in the community. But to continue pretending that law-abiding residents of all city neighborhoods are at equal risk does not serve the cause of public safety.

San Francisco law enforcement appears to be moving slowly toward elements that proved successful in New York and were adopted elsewhere. Our GPS-based ShotSpotter system already shows good results in pinpointing gunfire locations, but crime cameras placed in 19 locations have had little effect, according to a study released Thursday.

All these local police experiments are welcome, and The Examiner has particularly high hopes for strong success of the zone-based strategy. However, we still think additional elements of an New York-style crime reduction program also ought to be tried here — and as quickly as possible.

After all, the basic principle of the New York effort is a combination of realistic and proactive tactics supported by imaginative high-tech data collection and analysis. Where better than the Bay Area to take the lead in law-enforcement technology?

New York’s zone policing is driven by the CompStat computer system that tracks daily crime statistics street by street. This information focuses action at weekly sessions where top-ranking police officials meet with local precinct commanders. This sort of computer-guided management could only make San Francisco streets safer, and we find it hard to understand why it hasn’t been tried here already.

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