By Jonathan Farrell
District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar’s office discovered an unsettling detail about the crime statistics made available by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD): They are few and far between.
“We are alarmed,” said Edward Wright, a legislative aide in Mar’s office. “The data just isn’t there.”
Responding to residents’ concerns about being “targeted,” Mar wanted his office to gain some insight by looking more closely at facts; more specifically, in the outline of statistics found in police reports.
“In March, I requested that SFPD provide data on victim demographics at a hearing I called in response to a series of home invasion robberies targeting Chinese families in the Sunset District and other neighborhoods,” Mar said. “Four months later, Chinese residents and businesses have been victims of many more high-profile violent crimes. Yet, I still haven’t received the information I requested. When we know better, we do better and it is deeply frustrating that SFPD has not already provided this basic information that can help ensure all communities are safe.”
Mar reiterated his concern at “town hall” meetings and at a formal hearing in April with the SF Board of Supervisors.
Capt. Tim Falvey told the press “statistics show a 10 percent drop between 2015 and 2018 in home invasion property crimes.” This is a category that includes burglary, robbery and what he described as hot prowls, where the suspect enters an occupied residence.
But this did not make sense to Mar because of the incidents of repeated burglaries out in the avenues that got his attention.
Even so, Falvey believes his work is deterring crime. He has more than 20 years of experience in the SFPD. As commanding officer of the Tactical Company, Falvey oversees the tactical unit (SWAT Team), explosive ordnance disposal unit (bomb squad), tactical canines, mounted unit and the hostage and crisis negotiation team.
“I think (the 10 percent drop in home invasion) is a significant improvement and reinforces that some of the things we are doing in the burglary unit and robbery unit are working,” Falvey said.
According to information posted on the SFPD website, officers deterred a burglary in process on July 22 along the 1500 block of 44th Avenue. Arresting three young men in their 20s, officers at the scene took them to County Jail.
Still, even with a website and regular news releases, the information readily available to the public is lacking, according to Mar.
Wright noted that when fellow staff member in Mar’s office, Alan Wong, met with SFPD some information was given.
“But it was not what we requested,” said Wright.
The grid and graph sheet formats on the SFPD website only list statistics for the last five years. Mar is seeking reports that go back at least 10 years.
Most of what is presented at the site is static and difficult to read. It is difficult to translate what the numbers and pie charts signify.
Also, regarding records going back further, several of the references on the SFPD website provide links to other websites. It appears SFPD is relying on other parties/vendors to provide its detailed information to the public; such as through DataSF.org and GovQA, a public sector compliance outreach organization headquartered in Woodridge, IL.
“Hate-motivated crimes overall have surged in the past few years, increasing across the nation for three consecutive years from 2014-2017 according to the FBI, Mar said. “In San Francisco, the surge has been especially dramatic, increasing by 61 percent from 2017 to 2018.”
The SFPD website has a “crime data dashboard.” But, on that web page there is no mention of “hate crimes.” It only gives a tally of the number of robberies, assaults, burglaries, etc. Statistics do not tally unfounded incidents nor the number of victims. There is no mention of any particular social demographics or location, other than the police station the statistical numbers were gathered from. The missing information about victims pushed Mar and his office into action.
Mar is working with the Board of Supervisors and the city attorney’s office to draft legislation requiring the SFPD to track and report demographic information of crime victims. The action is in direct response to the public comments heard at Mar’s town hall meetings and a formal hearing with Sunset residents.
Mar aims to have the legislative draft completed and introduced by September. If approved and implemented, the legislation will help the City further identify trends in crimes against vulnerable communities. This includes those trends that may not rise to the legal definition of a hate crime.