San Francisco's no good terrible pandemic year was indeed different, crime-wise, than in most other cities in America. But it was a whole lot less violent, as it turns out.
We already knew from anecdotal evidence — and/or our own personal experience — that burglaries and other kinds of petty crime were happening more frequently than usual in SF in 2020. And in December we had police department data already backing that up, showing that burglaries, arsons, and car thefts were all up significantly year over year. Comparing November 2019 to November 2020 showed a 42% jump in burglaries and 34% jump in car thefts, but car break-ins, meanwhile, were down 42%, and violent crime was down as well, including a 50% drop in sexual assaults — thanks to most of us being a fair bit more isolated than usual.
Now the Chronicle is taking a longer view showing crime trends from 2017 to 2020, via the SFPD's crime data dashboard. And it finds a nearly 50% jump in burglaries between 2019 and 2020 after two years of steady decline in burglaries and other types of crime. And while homicides were up slightly after a record-low number of murders in 2019, there were not significantly more homicides in SF than there were in 2018, and assaults were down overall.
Also, robberies were down significantly, and larcenies were down as well.
Despite what you may have heard, crime is overwhelmingly down in SF over the past few years, with the exception car thefts and burglaries, which spiked in 2020. @susieneilson's latest data dive offers clarity (and helpful graphs!) beyond the rhetoric. https://t.co/CHBa5XFiIF— Megan Cassidy (@meganrcassidy) April 2, 2021
Meanwhile, murders skyrocketed in cities across the country, with homicide counts up 35% overall.
The Chronicle also looked at Sacramento's crime numbers for last year, and found that burglaries and other property crime was down, but homicides were up 29% and assaults were up 24% in 2020.
"There were simply fewer people in the city of San Francisco compared to before the pandemic," says Magnus Lofstrom, a policy director and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, speaking to the Chronicle. But, he adds, regarding the pandemic and social unrest of last year, "What is clear is we’re talking about highly unusual events that wreaked havoc on our lives in many ways. It’s not surprising that our crime rates reflect those things as well."
Critics of District Attorney Chesa Boudin have been quick to point the finger at him for the perceived explosion of crime in San Francisco — and given several high-profile incidents involving repeat offenders who were freed from jail during the pandemic, three of which led to deaths, these will be hard to shake politically. But the trend lines do speak for themselves in terms of violent crime overall, and Boudin has sought to blame the rise in property crime on the economic toll of the pandemic, and vast income inequality in the Bay Area.
Boudin was featured on 60 Minutes+ earlier this week, talking about crime and his philosophies on incarceration. And for victims of crime, like the wife of a man who was killed in a collision allegedly caused by an intoxicated repeat offender in a stolen vehicle, these philosophies are cold comfort.
"He should have thought, 'Am I protecting people with criminal records?', which, yes, there's room for improvement... or 'Am I protecting the citizens?' There was someone out who shouldn't have been out," said widow Hannah Ege, following the February death of her husband Sheria Musyoka. "And my husband's dead now because of that."
Boudin calls such cases aberrations, and more incarceration is not the answer.
"I learned from day one that our criminal justice system is not working," Boudin said on the program, referring to the lengthy incarceration of his parents, who were implicated in a Weather Underground robbery in the 1970s. "It is not keeping us safe. It is not investing in supporting victims of crime. It is not rehabilitating people it is warehousing them."
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