Public safety in San Francisco right now doesn’t fit neatly into one narrative. Homicides in 2020 were near an all-time low. Yet burglaries and home invasions were on the rise, and certain neighborhoods like the Richmond and the Sunset saw an alarming increase in break-ins. Small business owners have experienced repeated burglaries at their stores.
There have been a number of high profile attacks on elderly Asian residents in the Bay Area, which, combined with a rising and disturbing trend of anti-Asian racism throughout the country, has led many members of our Asian community to feel unsafe in their own neighborhood. And there has been an increase in shootings, particularly in the southeast part of our City, that is causing a lot of fear in the community.
This is all to say that we can’t just look at the overall crime numbers and say that everything is fine. It’s not. There are very real issues that we need to acknowledge and work to address. Here are some immediate steps we can take:
Ensure we don’t lay off any of our police officers
San Francisco is facing a two-year budget deficit of $650 million, and because of that I directed all departments to propose budget cuts of 7.5% to 10%. We must find savings in our city budget and be responsible about allocating new revenue in order to prevent deep service cuts and ensure our city can recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of that process, the police department identified cuts which would mean losing 167 police officers and 43 civilian positions. That number has been out in public, and I want to be clear that it is only a proposal that is part of our budget process.
And let me be more clear: I do not support, and I will not support, any efforts to lay off members of law enforcement in the upcoming budget cycle. It would be a mistake to remove officers from the force. It would be a mistake to take officers off the street at a time when we’re seeing burglaries and home break-ins rise. We know that right now in particular, when there are far fewer people on our streets due to COVID, that the visible presence of our police officers are an essential deterrent to opportunistic crime.
Furthermore, if we were to cut positions, we would be severely impacting our efforts to diversify and reform our police force. And since the hiring rules of the City protect officers who have been on the force the longest, that means that our newest hires, who as a whole are much more diverse, would be the most impacted. Of the officers who would be laid off, 30% are Latino, 28% are Asian, and 9% are Black. Cutting officers would mean having a smaller, less diverse force.
We’re continuing to do the critical work to reform policing in our city, and SFPD has made good progress on implementing the 272 reforms originally initiated under President Obama’s Department of Justice. Last year, I supported reinvesting a total of $120 million from law enforcement as part of our roadmap to rethinking policing, including funding non-police responses to non-violent calls. We were able to do this without any layoffs of officers.
Implement a Consistent Response to Repeat Offenders
Too many crimes, including those that have resulted in people dying on our streets, have involved people who have repeatedly been arrested and then, for whatever reason, end up back on the street where they reoffend. Clearly, there are gaps and our public safety agencies need to do better.
To fill these gaps, our public safety leaders have agreed to launch an initiative to commit to clear and consistent communications and streamlined processes that support swift and coordinated responses designed to produce better public safety outcomes. This includes our Police Chief, Sheriff, District Attorney, and Chief of Adult Probation all committing to work together to ensure people who have consistently violated the terms of their release are held accountable.
This coordination will start with the Police Department developing and updating regularly a list of repeat offenders by categories of crime, such as burglaries, auto thefts, organized retail crime, and robberies and sharing these names of prolific offenders with the District Attorney, Adult Probation, and the Sheriff’s Department for appropriate action. These individuals will receive additional consideration in decisions regarding charging and other responses, and all departments are committed to standardizing communication policies with each other, the courts, and state and federal agencies in managing the cases of these individuals to ensure better outcomes.
To support the District Attorney’s ability to fully commit to this agreement, I have agreed to fill two currently vacant prosecutor positions that will focus their work on this effort, since their office is the only public safety agency with the power to file new charges and request detention when appropriate.
Address Gun Violence through Targeted Interventions
San Francisco is receiving a $1.5 million California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant over the next three years to help reduce shootings, break the cycle of recidivism where people cycle in and out of the criminal justice system, and to build trust between the community and the Police Department.
The data reflects what too many in this City understand intuitively — that gun violence is not an issue that is felt in our neighborhoods equally:
- 85% of shooting victims and suspects are Black and Latino men, while they comprise less than 10% of the City’s total population.
- 29% of all violent firearm crimes in 2019 took place in San Francisco’s Bayview, Potrero Hill, and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods with a quarter of all the City’s homicides for the past five years occurring there.
- A majority of gun homicides and non-fatal shootings are driven by or connected to street group dynamics; those at the highest risk of gun violence in San Francisco are primarily 18–35, Black and Latino men with justice-involvement and social connections to each other.
The approach of this program will start by identifying individuals who are most at risk of either engaging in gun violence or falling victim to gun violence and connecting them with our Street Violence Intervention Program (SVIP) to receive services and support. This team is on the ground, in our community, working with at-risk individuals by providing mentorship, guidance, and a path forward that doesn’t involve violence. They engage not only with the individual, but with their family and their support network to get them out of situations that can lead to violence and instead set them on a path to success.
This day to day work doesn’t receive the attention it should because their success means there are no headlines. It means the community is safer, people are choosing productive, healthy lives rather than getting involved in violence. But by investing in prevention, and investing in our communities, we can avoid the outcomes down the line that would otherwise result in violence and criminal activity. When I went out with SVIP workers during Lunar New Year in Chinatown, they were walking the streets, making sure people were safe, and connecting with merchants and residents. They provide a positive presence and more eyes on the streets. This is the kind of work we need to do all across the City, and I’m hoping to expand this effort of having SVIP in our communities.
These are just a few steps we need to take to address the public safety challenges our city is facing. We have more work to do, and we will continue to do that work, but these are initial steps we are making right now to advance public safety.