A data-driven approach to fighting property crime

Last year, more than 31,000 auto burglaries were reported to the police department. Only 550 arrests were made, and one auto burglar went to trial. As a result, San Francisco had the highest property crime rate of any major U.S. city in 2017. Compared to Los Angeles, we had 10 times more auto burglaries per capita.

In response, City Hall threw more money at the problem (San Francisco already spends over $1 billion annually on criminal justice) and put up Park Smart signs all over town — as if the reason there are so many auto burglaries in San Francisco is that we leave more valuables in our cars than folks do in other cities.

We need a new approach.

As supervisor, I will make sure our entire criminal justice system is run according to national best practices. We do need to increase the number of police officers on the beat, but our police force also badly needs to be equipped with modern technology to fight crime more effectively. I will make our criminal justice bureaucracies radically transparent. And for the first time in a long time, I will make sure City Hall holds these bureaucracies accountable, in a systematic and data-driven way, for reducing crime in our neighborhoods.


San Francisco’s response to property crime is shrouded in secrecy. The only data that City Hall publishes regularly is how many property crimes are committed and whether an arrest was made. The district attorney’s office and Superior Court provide no data to the public about how many people are prosecuted or what sentences are handed down. And no city department tracks how successful we are at rehabilitation.

It’s simply mind-boggling that City Hall spends over $1 billion a year on our criminal justice system and can’t answer the simple question of what is the average prison sentence for auto burglary.

This lack of data means our leaders rely on anecdotes rather than evidence in responding to property crime. Kept in the dark, it’s impossible for the Board of Supervisors, mayor, and community to hold big bureaucracies accountable, in a systematic and data-driven way, for effectively preventing and prosecuting crimes.

If we want to change this reality, we need true transparency. It’s not enough to say auto burglars deserve more prison time without knowing more about how sentencing decisions are made. True transparency would also give us a better understanding of which crime prevention programs work and which jail programs succeed at rehabilitating inmates. From there we can make better funding decisions.


Almost every major police department in the country uses GPS bait devices for property crime stings.

The way they work is by placing a small, inexpensive GPS transmitter into a commonly stolen item like a laptop in a car. When the transmitter moves, an alert is sent to a dispatch center and also to officers’ smartphones so they can easily monitor the device’s travels. That’s 24/7 surveillance with no human intervention until the moment a pursuit needs to be made.

This strategy was used to great effect in San Jose earlier this year. Following an auto burglary incident, police were able to track multiple GPS bait devices to a suburban self-storage container with hundreds of stolen laptops, cameras, and phones. Five people were arrested, and prosecutors charged them with the full scale of the crimes they had committed. The operation also prevented possibly thousands of future crimes.

More than 7,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide have a comprehensive GPS bait device program, including 30 in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Police Department, however, is not one of them. The devices are $450 apiece plus $18 per month for cellular service, making them a cost-effective and proven mechanism to improve crime fighting.

Video cameras are another area where SFPD should focus more resources. The department touts its use of the 350-plus cameras attached to businesses around Union Square to try to identify perpetrators, but it only accesses footage after a crime has been committed. This program is not set up so police can view footage in real time, and there are no plans to replicate it across other high-crime areas.

One city that’s a model for using real-time video in its policing strategy is Sacramento. For less than $500,000 in startup costs, the police department built a sophisticated camera network in crime hotspots that officers use to monitor and react to incidents as they happen or directly after the fact. Police credit the new camera system with helping to make 100 felony arrests in the first year alone.

As supervisor, I will work with the community to deploy these security camera systems in our highest crime areas, such as around the crooked part of Lombard Street.

For far too long City Hall has failed to deal with the rampant property crime in our neighborhoods. We must make systemic upgrades to our criminal justice system if we want this to change. As your supervisor, I will not only work to add more cops to the streets, but I will ensure that our police force is equipped with modern technology. And I will make sure that we use data to hold our entire criminal justice system accountable for delivering safe neighborhoods.

Nick Josefowitz is a candidate for District 2 supervisor. To learn more about his campaign, visit

This is a sponsored article paid for by Nick Josefowitz for Supervisor 2018. Financial disclosures available at

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