By Ava Cohen
In recent months, San Francisco residents have become concerned about a supposed increase in crime rates in the city, and formal mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg went so far as to create a change.org petition attempting to recall San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. The petition surpassed its goal with 15,000 signatures.
It’s not entirely clear where this scuttlebutt derived from, but the speculation over a rise in crime is present even on neighborhood apps such as Nextdoor, where people love to make their laments behind a shield of anonymity, making statements that they cannot express elsewhere.
However, these rumors of increasing crime rates are only a method of fear mongering. Stop Crime SF went so far as to claim that homicide rates went up by 30% in 2020 compared to the previous year, but provides no concrete evidence of this. Recent data shows that violent crime in the city is actually the lowest it’s been since 1975, and San Francisco had a significantly smaller population than it does now. A quick glimpse at this graph clearly shows not only a decrease in violent crimes in 2020 but a decrease in property crimes as well.
The assumption that theft from vehicles has increased is clearly invalid according to the second graph shown here. Theft from vehicles allegedly lessened from 24,805 in 2019 to 17,146 in 2020.
What I find most concerning is that this conjecture might allow for more residents to call the police in unnecessary circumstances, and the police are always prone to causing more violence and chaos than actually helping to decrease it.
This powerpoint shows that the police department budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year was a whopping $692,937,316, which resulted in a budget of an incredulous $747,646,708 for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Part of the requests that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) made was for another hundred patrol cars, and the only logical reason for that is so SFPD would have more access to harassing homeless people and other marginalized groups. The graphs clearly show that there was a noteworthy decrease in crime in 2020, so I’m not sure why they’d need a larger budget otherwise.
Another request they made was more funds for lab equipment to reopen the drug section, and that fact alone sets off red flags considering police intervention has always been more harmful to addicts, and rehabilitation as well as other mental and physical health resources always prove to be much more helpful.
But this reopening of the drug section makes me wonder, is this because of the uptick of substance use and addiction since the start of the pandemic? Not only this, but often when police murder people in cold blood, the argument is “they were on drugs,” as if this made their death any more justified.
“Social and economic changes caused by the pandemic, along with the traditional difficulties regarding treatment access and adherence — will certainly worsen during this period, therefore aggravate their condition,” according to the US National Library of Medicine on the issue of addiction. But unsurprisingly, the budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year for the San Francisco Health Service System was only $12,087,904, and $54,998,356 for the Homelessness and Supportive Housing department.
These numbers seem high until you compare it to the police department budget and how SFPD does absolutely nothing to help actually solve problems of addiction and substance abuse.
Chesa Boudin, the San Francisco district attorney, has received much of the blame for this supposed uptick in crime. He spoke about it on 60 Minutes, but SFist wrote a short recap.
“We need to do more than simply arrest street-level dealers. If all you’re doing is taking a couple grams off the street, great. But it has never made a difference,” said Boudin. While I don’t necessarily agree that anyone should be incarcerated for substance use or dealing, I think Boudin’s approach is a good start.
Police Chief Bill Scott says that SFPD does have problems with the DA’s office right now, that they disagree with Boudin’s way of thinking. I’m sure they also hate the fact that Boudin helped release 40% of incarcerated people in the pandemic because this intrudes on their bubble of safety that uses violence to keep others out.
It seems that most of why Boudin has received so much backlash recently is because SFPD and much of the white upper and middle class have had some level of comfort taken away. They rely on the carceral system to preserve their bubbles of utopia, free from poverty and other factors that “invade” their way of being.
Boudin himself has an incarcerated parent, and the other served 22 years.
“It is not rehabilitating people. It is warehousing them,” Boudin said on the topic of mass incarceration on 60 Minutes. “And in the process, it is bankrupting state and local governments; it is destroying communities and families. It is contributing to an intergenerational cycle of incarceration.”