The last three years have seen a notable spike in homicide and gun violence in the Bay Area. In 2005, San Francisco’s homicide rate was the highest it had been in more than 10 years, and Oakland’s first-half 2006 murder rates were 78% higher than first-half 2005 (the most recent reliable statistics).
The past week has seen 5 different shootings in San Francisco’s highly integrated Western Addition, and several more in the primarily lower-class neighborhoods of Bayview and Hunters Point. While the San Francisco Police Department vociferously defends its arrest rate for violent crimes (one of the worst in the country), little is being done to stop crimes before they occur.
Police officers and investigators have a difficult time opening up earnest and useful communications with the communities which are home to most of the gun violence in the Bay Area. People living in projects – surrounded by drugs and gang activity – are, understandably, reticent to “snitch” or tell the police what they know about crime.
What options do the police have, then, to stop crime?
In October, 2006, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors held a hearing to air the SFPD’s position on having a few patrols each day walk beats. Supervisor Chris Daly asked the police department, “With 365,302,495 of San Francisco’s dollars, can you walk a few beats?” SFPD’s response? They presented statistics claiming that response times for priority calls would increase by more than a minute if just a few more police are put out on beats.
Nonetheless, the Board of Supervisors approved a measure requiring more guaranteed foot patrols from the SFPD. Mayor Gavin Newsom then vetoed the measure, saying that he wants to see the measure put before the voters of San Francisco.
While admirably political, this does little to mitigate the problem of gun violence in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. Police foot patrols might address several things. First, they would make criminals more aware of police present. Second, they would soothe some of the fears of local residents. Third, constant police presence in underserved neighborhoods might serve to de-vilify the police in the eyes of residents, making getting witnesses and informants on crimes easier.
Either way, something has to happen. Children are being shot in broad daylight. San Francisco’s arrest rate on violent crime is only 25%. The situation is not ideal… unless you’re a murderer.