As we reach the end of 2023, it’s worth looking back at not just where we are and what work lies ahead, but what we’ve done over the last couple of years to make San Francisco a safer city.
In 2021, as vaccines became widely available, San Francisco emerged from the pandemic as a city facing a number of very real public safety challenges and perceptions around crime. Fentanyl and the drug markets that arose during the pandemic had taken over certain neighborhoods. With a decline in tourism, home burglaries increased as criminals moved from breaking into cars to breaking into homes. Then as tourism returned in 2022, car break-ins started to rise again. Organized retail theft and shoplifting targeted retailers both large and small. Fencing operations on our streets created unsafe conditions in neighborhoods.
As those and other challenges arose, we took a series of actions to improve public safety in San Francisco. We launched strategic initiatives targeting San Francisco’s largest safety challenges, worked with partners at the local, state, and federal level to expand enforcement and accountability, and improved police staffing efforts and other support across our entire City.
We still have a lot of work to do, including to build back police staffing and to implement policies that support our officers being out on the streets and giving them the technological tools to do their jobs. While San Francisco is seeing improvements in public safety, we are not yet where we want to be.
It’s important that we talk about what’s working — and what still needs to be done. And it’s also important we are consistently and clearly sending the message that there will be consequences for those who break the law. Yes, San Francisco is a City that believes in and offers second chances, but we are also a city of accountability.
What We’ve Done
We launched a series of strategic initiatives targeting the city’s most pressing public safety challenges. This is in addition to the work that our law enforcement agencies do every day to combat both violent and property crime in all parts of our city. These initiatives include:
- Launched the Drug Market Agency Coordination Center to disrupt and shut down drug markets. This led to increasing arrests for the sale of drugs, but also for public drug use.
- Passed a law to give SFPD access to live cameras to support investigations, including around drug dealing, retail theft, and violent crime.
- Launched targeted retail theft strategies, including the Organized Retail Crime Initiative to expand investigations and arrests, retail theft blitz operations, which have yielded hundreds of arrests, and the Safe Shopper program for the Holiday Season.
- Expanded auto burglary deterrence and enforcement, including the use of bait cars, plainclothes officers, and targeted patrols to disrupt auto break-ins.
- Passed a law to address street vending and illegal fencing and expanded enforcement efforts. This work includes banning street vending in areas like UN Plaza and the Mission and requiring permits for vendors to sell lawfully on our streets.
Public Safety Partners
I’ve prioritized working with and elevating leaders who are focused on delivering results on public safety in our communities. These are people who believe that cities must prioritize both accountability and opportunities for second chances and reform. This includes:
- Appointed a new District Attorney Brooke Jenkins who was focused on prosecuting crimes and being a partner to SFPD and state and federal law enforcement to change the conditions in our neighborhoods.
- Appointed District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey whose focus has been on public safety and addressing the city’s drug crisis.
- Worked with Governor Gavin Newsom to bring in the California Highway Patrol and the California National Guard to target the drug markets.
- Worked with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring in the US Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Agency to increase enforcement against street level drug dealing and trafficking in the city.
San Francisco, like cities across the country, has seen a dramatic decrease in police staffing levels since the pandemic. Our priority has been both restoring police staffing through recruitment and retention efforts and expanding non-law enforcement responses to support our neighborhoods and free up police officers to focus on enforcing the laws. These include:
- Funded expanded recruitment and retention efforts including making starting salaries for the SFPD the highest of any large city in the Bay Area. Focused not just on financial incentives and recruitment strategies to build back police staffing but building up morale to encourage more people to join.
- While building back staffing in the long-term, addressed the immediate needs by successfully passing a police overtime supplemental to keep officers on the street. Also, successful secured a $17 million dollar state grant that helps fund police overtime to target retail theft operations and prosecute organized rings.
- Dramatically expanded City ambassador programs Downtown, in the neighborhoods, and in and around transit stations. Followed this by doubling our retired police officer ambassador program, to provide more support in our merchant corridors across the entire city.
- Expanded the City’s non-law enforcement street response teams which both provide a more efficient alternative to help people with mental health and addiction needs, but also frees up police officers to focus on crimes.
San Francisco has always been a city that believes in second chances and creating opportunities. We invest in communities and young people to give them the opportunities to succeed and to ensure everyone in this city has a choice of finding a good paying, rewarding employment. These include:
- Funded job training programs like the City EMT program, which is designed to address the issues of poverty, violence, and unemployment by training at-risk young adults, aged 18–24 years old, in an expanded Emergency Medical Technician curriculum program.
- Strengthened the CityBuild Academy program that trains constructions workers, including increasing the paid stipend while people go through training and launching the Women and Families First Initiative, the first of its kind that supported expanding women in construction.
- Funded employment pipelines in the Dreamkeeper Initiative, through workforce training programs that prepare participants to be immediately competitive in the job market.
- Launched and sustained Opportunities for All, a city-led program that initiative includes paid internships, mentorship, and pathways to employment, including job readiness, career training, and apprenticeship for participants ages 13 to 24.
Impacts on Public Safety
Thanks to the efforts of our law enforcement agencies and those that work with them, we’ve seen some decreases in reported crimes despite our police staffing needs. We also have areas that remain challenges. And even if a crime has decreased, I know that when you’re a victim of crime, statistics don’t matter. But it’s important we look at where we are to see what’s working and where we need more focus.
Larceny Theft has decreased, which includes both retail theft and auto burglaries, down 12% citywide in 2023 compared to 2022, and remains 24% below 2019 levels.
- San Francisco saw the largest decrease in shoplifting incidents in 2023– 35% — in a 24 city study by the Council on Criminal Justice
- Between the beginning of September and the end of November, San Francisco had a 50% decrease in auto break-ins, compared to the same period in 2022.
- Over Black Friday weekend this year, San Francisco saw 75% fewer larceny thefts compared to the same time period in 2022.
Drug Arrests have increased in the Tenderloin and South of Market area as part of our coordinated drug market efforts. This includes:
- Over 900 individuals arrested for drug dealing, a 75% increase over the same period last year.
- 255 pounds of fentanyl seized so far this year, an increase of more than 85% over the same period last year.
This work is important and has helped these areas during the day. But we are working to bring greater focus to the drug dealing that happens at night.
Home Burglaries are down 24% this year from where they were in 2021 when break-ins spiked in neighborhoods during the pandemic.
Homicides remain low compared to national averages and SFPD’s homicide clearance rate remains far above the national average.
Motor Vehicle Thefts have increased nationally and in San Francisco this year. This is an area we need to focus our work in. The good news is that though the numbers are still up this year, we have begun to decline in San Francisco — with a 9% decrease since September 1, compared to the same time period last year.
Robberies also remain up this year. Our officers have made arrests on robberies targeting small businesses, which have helped us to detain and prosecute organized robbery rings. Similar to disrupting car break-ins, we need to target the organized robbery groups to bring these stats down.
Applications to the Police Academy have jumped back to 2018 levels, and this summer San Francisco welcomed its largest Academy Class in three years, then followed that with another class of equal size that started in September. Both are currently training in the Academy, with the first class set to graduate in February.
Next Steps for 2024
Our goals are to sustain these efforts, to build on them, and to address new issues as they arise. This includes remaining focused on funding and filling Academy classes, implementing new efforts to support police officers in their work, and changing state laws to address serious challenges. This includes:
- Continuing our Strategies to Reach Full Police Staffing by expanding recruiting, ensuring the City’s starting salary remains the highest in the Bay Area, and creating a culture and Department that is attractive for those looking to join the SFPD.
- Installing 400 new Automated License Plate Reader cameras at 100 intersections across the city. These will be installed next year funded by a state grant, which will help with retail theft, car break-ins, and other crimes.
- Expanding SFPD’s Reserve Officer program to support foot patrols in our neighborhoods. This program will provide pay for a previously volunteer program, so that our trained reserve officers can walk beats in merchant corridors and other areas.
- Closing a loophole in state law on auto break-ins, which will help our DA prosecute these crimes more effectively. Senator Scott Wiener is carrying this important bill, which I’m sponsoring.
- Making changes to our state vending laws, so that police have an enforcement role in addressing street vending and the selling of stolen goods on our streets. Current state law prohibits Police involvement in street vending enforcement, and I am leading a coalition of California mayors to change the law.
We know more challenges will arise. That’s the nature of cities and our work. I am committed to working with all of our law enforcement agencies, departments, and elected leaders — at the local, state and federal levels — to keep our city safe. San Francisco has made substantial progress to address both the real and perceived challenges we face around public safety, and we have much more work to do to be where we want to be.