Recent polling by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce revealed that eight out of 10 San Franciscans feel crime has gotten worse over the last year. This comes as no surprise as public safety concerns drive many phone calls and emails to my office. District 2 residents have shared their personal stories with me — everything from garage break-ins to armed robberies, and other harrowing crimes. I have lived here 21 years, and there is no denying the sense of unease felt by so many.
For some officials to deny these experiences, by generally stating that “overall” crime is down, ignores and invalidates victims of crime. While car break-ins may have been down last year, we know residential burglaries increased at alarming rates — a crime much more frightening and violating.
San Franciscans deserve to feel safe in their communities, in their homes, and in a convenience store picking up their prescriptions. The bottom line is too many San Franciscans don’t feel safe, and it’s past time we have an honest conversation about why and a meaningful conversation about how to address it.
The current narrative on crime in San Francisco is that rates are down; a closer look at the data proves otherwise. The official crime rate does not include all crimes, and has specifically excluded shootings, drug overdoses, and hate crimes from publicized statistics.
In 2020, shootings spiked by more than 60 percent, and in the first quarter of 2021 alone they increased by more than 300 percent. San Francisco’s drug overdose crisis is similarly out of control. Each day, two people die from an overdose on our streets. In 2020, there were a record-breaking 699 overdose deaths, nearly double the rate of 2019, which has continued to rise in 2021. Hate crimes have become more brazen in San Francisco, and in California they have increased by 31 percent in 2020, with a majority of crimes targeting Asian American and Black residents.
Yes, certain categories of crime have dropped, most notably personal property theft has decreased by 39 percent. However, from 2019 to 2020 other more serious categories of crime have increased: burglary, arson, motor vehicle theft, and homicide increased by 52 percent, 37 percent, 40 percent, and 35 percent respectively, and even higher in some districts. According to police, robberies have also become more brazen.
When some city leaders parrot the notion that “crime is down,” they erase the experience of victims who have endured tragic and sometimes traumatizing events and they simplify the picture. We cannot ignore the facts by citing incomplete and misleading data.
PUBLIC SAFETY IN THE BUDGET
To address these issues, I have consistently prioritized public safety and police staffing during budget negotiations. I believe that one of the most fundamental duties of government is to keep its citizens safe. That means taking a hard look at the data, listening to our community, and making change where it’s needed.
The delays in response times from the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) have become dangerously apparent. A recent study conducted by an outside consultant found that the SFPD’s staffing was severely inadequate. While this study found that SFPD needs to hire 265 more patrol officers to speed up response times, many others during this year’s budget cycle were strongly advocating to cut public safety funding by an additional $30 million.
At every step of this year’s budget deliberations, I reaffirmed my commitment to public safety and fought for our police department, especially as funding for police academy classes, equipment, and new investments in criminal justice reform initiatives were on the line. Good policing requires investment, and I was able to successfully secure funding for two additional police academy classes and much-needed officer overtime pay. The San Francisco Police Department will now have enough funds to hire 135 more officers over the next two years. While this is not enough of an increase to account for attrition, retirement, and the growing needs of our city, it is a much better outcome than believed possible at the start of budget negotiations.
I will continue fighting for adequate public safety funding. My commitment to public safety also includes my legislation banning the sale of ghost guns in San Francisco, demanding a hearing on the lack of domestic violence prosecutions, fighting for honest reporting around pretrial reoffense rates, and working with our police captains on responding to community needs with footbeat officers and community outreach.
THIS YEAR’S BUDGET VOTE
Because I was able to secure necessary funding for public safety, including academy classes, I voted in support of the FY 2021–22 budget. One of the reasons I was the lone “no” vote on last year’s budget was due in part to academy classes being cut and an overall inadequate investment in public safety.
The Chamber poll also shared that a majority of San Franciscans believe that it should be a high priority for the city to maintain funding for academy classes and to increase the number of officers as necessary. I agree with the residents of San Francisco, and my actions will continue to reflect that.