SF Bay Area

Why San Francisco Police Don’t Care About Crime

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This month my apartment building was broken into and thousands of dollars worth of property was stolen and a good deal of damage was done in the form of broken locks, doors, and of course our feeling of personal safety within our own homes was deeply bruised.

Upon discovering the crime I collected a list of property missing, alerted our landlord, and jogged down to the Mission Police Station to alert our city’s “crime fighters’ as to what had happened.

“Hello officers, I’d like to report a crime,” I announced with conviction, “someone broke into our apartment building just hours ago, and they stole thousands of dollars worth of property.”  The officer looked at me blankly and said, “We don’t take those kinds of reports, you have to call dispatch.” He jotted down a number on a scrap of paper and passed it to me under the protective glass.

“Thanks…?” I said, as I stood there mildly confused, “So I just tell them what I told you and they’ll come to help us?”  The officer replied, “Yeah, for a burglary they have to come to the scene to make a report, so just call them”.

It felt like walking into a pizza parlor and asking for a large pepperoni, and having them tell to you, “If you’d like to order pizza from us, go online and use the app”.

Photo by Hubert Figuière. Wikimedia Commons  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

So I called SFPD dispatch, and explained to them what happened, what was taken, and that there were surveillance cameras across the street from our building that could have recorded the perpetrator’s actions.  Dispatch told me that the officers in our area would be alerted and would ‘get to it’ when they can.

So we waited, naively, all day and into the evening until we realized no one was coming.  I called dispatch again, who told me they were still busy and that they would respond when they could.  Of course, no police ever bothered to show up, no report was taken, and no report could be made via the SFPD website because of the nature of the crime.  So from a statistical point of view, no crime ever really happened. 

We simply gave up trying.

I’ve read plenty of articles over the years about the problem of police ignoring crimes in the greater Bay Area (but let’s focus on San Francisco today). Whether its how victimized small business owners are routinely ignored by SFPD, or big box grocers like Whole Foods closing a new store because of a lack of security, or the SF Chronicle polling San Franciscans last year and discovering that nearly half of city residents responded that “something was stolen from them in the last 5 years.”

Curious ourselves, we polled our followers on social media this month, simply asking the question, “Have you ever tried to file a police report in SF, & the police just never bothered to show up, or even call you back? If so, what happened?”

Unsurprisingly, we got over 200 responses.  The great majority of comments were stories about being the victim of a crime, whether it was a hit & run, to property theft, to a physical assault, in all these stories the police either ignored the victims, actively tried to convince them not to file a report, or simply never did anything to solve the crime or gather evidence.

Here is just a small taste of the stories written on our social posts about dealing with SFPD:

“I was mugged directly in front of the police station. Walked in with blood pouring out of my lip after being knocked to the ground and my tooth going through it. The officers handed me some paper towels for my face, told me there was really no point in filing a report and sent me on my way.”

“An acquaintance stole a bunch of stuff from me and I went to the Police station to file a report and they said he’ll just say you gave it to him and we won’t be able to prove otherwise. They were like sucks to be you, have a nice day.”

Someone crashed into my car in front of my house and did a hit-and-run. Called immediately with a description of the car and the cops never showed up. When I called them again they just told me a hit and run wasn’t high on the priority list for them and to come into the police station to file a report for insurance purposes.

“I was working at <an SF restaurant> and some dude stole most of the tip jar. Since I couldn’t verify how much he took, there was nothing they could do. They didn’t even want the wallet he dropped with his ID inside.”

“A deranged man was pacing up and down our street for hours threatening to bash people with a big rock he was holding. SFPD never showed up. We couldn’t leave our apartment.”

“I was assaulted at the AMC on Van Ness years ago. They arrested the guy, and I wanted to press charges. Had witnesses and everything. After a month of calling them to see where things were, I finally had a cop on the line tell me, “ok, listen lady – if you press charges, he’ll know where you live and where you work. You don’t want that now, do you?””

Are crimes being reported?

For the moment, let’s ignore the emotional damage done when law enforcement refuses to help you, let’s ignore that you need a police report to collect on insurance in cases of theft and vandalism, or to hold criminals to account in court, and let’s simply ask, “if the cops aren’t going to do anything about these crimes, are the crimes at least being tracked or reported in some way?

The answer:  Not really.

If you do not report a crime, or if the cop doesn’t file a police report, statistically it’s as if the crime never occurred, so if you think The SFPD Crime Dashboard actually reflects reality, I have a bridge to sell you.  It’s systematic denial, and when it comes to property crime, the 11,551 cases of theft/larceny reported in San Francisco this year alone, are only a fraction of what’s actually happening.

A screenshot of SFPD’s Crime Dashboard.

So what is SFPD’s problem?  Is it an officer shortage? Is it former DA Chesa Bodine’s policies? Is it the defund the police movement? Maybe we can blame the voters for Prop 47, which downgraded some drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors?

SFPD Performance

There’s a great article with interviews with former SF police officers by JOE ESKENAZI and WILL JARRETT in Mission Local.  The short answer is yes, there is an SFPD staffing crisis (reportedly 20% fewer officers on the force now, than before), and “police response times have grown markedly slower over the past four years, even though the cops are now fielding nearly 40 percent fewer calls.” – Mission Local

There are simply not enough officers to work crimes, and there is a terrible moral and policy problem within the department: read the full Mission local article here:

Yes, the SFPD has a staffing crisis — but that’s just the beginning

Police shortage is worse than you think

In an interview with a former SFPD and Oakland Police officer, Joel Aylworth claims that the 20% deficit in SF police officers is drastically underreported.  SFPD claims it has around 1500 officers working now compared to over 1,800 in the past.  Aylworth said, “When it comes to staffing, the numbers are a complete joke, the numbers you are being given…I saw a number from the inside not too long ago and the number (of officers) is really closer to 800…the 1,500 might be including civilian staff, so these numbers are very deceptive.”

Maybe we should be asking ourselves why no one wants to be a cop in San Francisco.  According to former SFPD officer Joel Aylworth, San Francisco PD used to be the department everyone wanted to work for.

Is it a funding issue? Do we pay the police enough?

The short answer is no, and ‘yes’, relative to the rest of the country we pay A LOT for law enforcement.  San Francisco Police officers are the 2nd highest-paid police in the nation, second only to the cops in Silicon Valley ( Santa Clara County).  In Santa Clara First-step base pay for a Police Officer is $111,000, and Top-step base pay for a Police Officer of $186,000.  In San Francisco, base salary $103,116 a year and after seven years it rises to $147,628 a year.   This is higher than New York City or any other expensive city in America.

It’s unclear to me if this includes overtime pay.  In San Francisco this March, Mayor London Breed secured an extra $27 million from the public coffers, to “pay police overtime and hire more officers and prosecutors”.  Personally, I haven’t noticed a difference on the street, but then again how could I?  According to the police, the stats we are given are ‘a joke’.

I’d also like to say on a personal level, that I love my city.  I rarely have a bad word to say about San Francisco despite writing well over 1,000 articles during my time as a journalist here.  And I will continue to love and support my city for as long as it will have me.

You may also note that I’m not a data scientist, I’m not even a crime or metro reporter, I’m just a guy who got robbed recently. But something should be done about the state of our police department, it may have nothing to do with ‘funding’.  All I can tell is; what we’re currently doing doesn’t seem to be working well, for anyone.

With that said, stay safe out there, and continue taking care of each other.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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