The San Francisco Police Department’s crime-solving rates fell to their lowest level in a decade, prompting widespread lamentations at Wednesday night’s police board meeting.
A February investigative letter from District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen to Police Chief Bill Scott was discussed at length at the meeting. The letter expressed concern that a “political rift” between the SFPD and the prosecutor’s office was “causing a deliberate work stoppage” by the police.
The explanations of the chief of police and his colleague defender of the department did not seem to satisfy the three commissioners appointed by the supervisory board, the only ones to have spoken during the point on the agenda of Wednesday evening. The three mayors named to the commission remained silent.
Only 8.1% of crimes reported in 2021 led to an arrest. That’s “the lowest in 10 years,” Acting President Cindy Elias said, reading of the SFPD’s low solve rates for various crimes compared to national averages. The current rate, she says, is unacceptable.
Ronen’s letter cited media reports as well as instances where she and her staff had personally witnessed SFPD members telling voters that there was no point in investigating the crimes or arresting the perpetrators “because the district attorney will not prosecute” — a claim she called “demonstrably false.”
The data shows that DA Chesa Boudin’s billing rates are actually higher than previous DAs.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for police officers to simply stop doing their job because they don’t like the way another department is doing their job,” Ronen wrote. “It’s time to stop using the district attorney as a scapegoat for broken morale in your department and start taking responsibility for solving the tough problems in our city under your jurisdiction.”
Neither the commissioners nor Scott explicitly brought the district attorney into Wednesday’s conversation, but Scott said he didn’t think officers refusing to do their jobs was a big enough issue to impact the courts. Department authorization rate.
“I don’t think there’s this issue of radical neglect of duty that’s going to swing an arrest rate from 8% to 50%,” Scott said. “I don’t think it’s that ubiquitous.”
Instead, he blamed alternatives to incarceration, efforts to reduce the prison population, legal changes to decriminalize certain activities, and staffing shortages. Since most of the initiatives mentioned by Scott require an arrest and evidence to proceed to the next step – alternatives and jail – the commissioners were unconvinced.
Commissioner Jesus Gabriel Yanez called the low rates “a glaring and glaring discrepancy” and said Scott presented no real solution or idea to fix the problem.
Elias pointed out that given all the reports of officers neglecting their duties, very few of them came before the commission for disciplinary hearings. “So how do we change the culture if there’s no discipline for these kinds of complaints?” she asked.
And, like Ronen, Elias rejected the understaffed excuse. Since 2016, before the department’s staffing shortages, Elias noted that the SFPD’s resolution rate was “well below the national average.”
“While staffing is important and we understand it, there is always another underlying issue or reason why this is happening,” Elias said. “And I guess my question is, what does the department do to find out what it is?”
One of the issues is the high level of property crime here in San Francisco, acting deputy chief of investigations Raj Vaswani said. Another reason, he argued, is organized and clever repeat offenders.
Scott, however, acknowledged that police have no intention of solving many property crimes, which the force considers mostly unsolvable. “Property crime incidents with little or no suspect information or physical evidence (i.e. vehicle break-ins) continue to be considered a lower priority in order to have personnel available to answer service calls,” Scott wrote in his response letter to Ronen. .
Scott told the commission yesterday that for the ‘vast majority’ of car break-ins, for example, ‘there is absolutely no follow-up – or anything to follow-up’.
Even Commissioner John Hamasaki, a notoriously harsh critic of the police department, accepted that reality Wednesday, during his last committee meeting.
“I’ve defended the department many times on these property crimes because, it’s like, you can’t investigate a pile of broken glass outside…there’s not much you can do.” But Hamasaki also questioned the quality of investigations in San Francisco, which he said simply doesn’t always compare to other jurisdictions.
Commissioners agreed that better tracking and auditing of calls for service and resulting police investigations – or lack thereof – would be a starting point.
Correction: This article has been updated to indicate that there are currently three mayors appointed to the police commission.