Fuzzy police math

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By Tim Redmond

After ducking the question for weeks, the San Francisco police chief has finally announced that she doesn't want foot patrols in high-crime areas because it will harm response times. Take the cops out of their cars, the argument goes, and they can't get around as fast when somebody calls for help.

The chief cites an internal study her staff has done (not enough cops to patrol the streets, but plenty of time for the uniformed staff to spend behind their desks doing studies) that purports to show that removing one mobile unit each shift and replacing the car-bound officers with foot patrols would increase the time it takes to answer a 911 call by several minutes. Sounds awful.

But the study didn't seem to consider the other side: The cops on the beat -- already stationed in the areas where crime is the worst -- might actually decrease the number of 911 calls, or get to them faster than the car patrols coming from somewhere else in the precinct. It's no secret where most of the violent crime happens; that's why the supervisors are asking for the foot patrols.

If the cops really want to cut the homicide rate (instead of just getting there faster after someone's already been shot) they need to embrace this kind of proposal. Chief Fong's current approach clearly isn't working.